SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 16, 2013

Federal grant will pay for four new firefighters

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — A half-million dollar grant from the Department of Homeland Security will enable the city to hire four new firefighters, marking the first time in years that the Beverly Fire Department will increase its staffing.

Fire Chief Paul Cotter said the Fire Department has lost 13 positions since 2002 and is now down to 61. The four new firefighters will increase the staff to 65.

“Having more firefighters on duty is always a bonus,” Cotter said. “We’ve been a lean, mean fighting machine for a lot of years now.”

Cotter said Beverly has sustained more cuts in staffing over the years than many other area fire departments. Salem, which has a similar population of around 40,000, has 87 firefighters and is scheduled to add another on Jan. 1.

The grant is worth $556,284 and was awarded through the Department of Homeland Security’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, program.

The money covers the cost of hiring four firefighters, including salary and benefits, for two years. Cotter said the grant could be extended for a third year if the firefighters who are hired are military veterans.

Cotter said he is hoping that the department will be able to keep the four positions when the grant money runs out. If money is not found in the budget to keep the positions, the new firefighters would remain and the city would eliminate positions through attrition as firefighters retire, Cotter said.

“We’re hoping that, moving forward, this is our bottom line now,” he said.

The City Council voted 8-0 last night to accept the grant money. Cotter told councilors the extra firefighters will allow the department to operate another firetruck out of the downtown Central Fire Station and to respond to medical calls with a smaller vehicle, saving on fuel costs and wear and tear on firetrucks.

“The more we have on duty at a time, the safer it is,” Cotter said.

Having more firefighters will also cut down on overtime costs, he said.

The grant award was announced by Congressman John Tierney’s office. Tierney said cities and towns in his district have received nearly $1.5 million in grant funds, including the SAFER program.

“Local residents and businesses depend on the reliability of our fire departments and safety response teams,” Tierney said in a press release. “Ensuring that they are fully staffed and prepared is a top priority of mine, and I am pleased that the Beverly Fire Department will be receiving these funds to continue its important work keeping our community safe.”

Cotter credited Deputy fire Chief Peter O’Connor for writing the grant application that led to the award. Beverly has also received grants in recent years for a new fire boat and dive rescue team truck.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.