The city of Rochester's Fire Department was approved for $2.4 million in federal grant money to fund 15 new positions at the department over the next three years, officials said at the city council meeting on Monday, August 27.
Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik said at the August 27 meeting that the department received notification about 10 days earlier that it had been selected and notified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that their grant had been approved for its application for Staffing for an Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER). The grant will provide about $2.4 million to fund new positions at the department starting this year and going through 2020.
"It will provide for 75 percent of funding for the first year, with the city providing 25 percent," and 75 percent with the city providing 25 percent in year two, Cieslik said. "It will provide about 35 percent for year three."
Exactly how long the funding will be spread out will be determined by the specifics of the staffing, which could include in-house staff that would be considered city employees, or could be contract employees.
Cieslik said he and city manager Blaine Wing will present those staffing options and detailed cost estimates at council's Monday, September 10 meeting. He said the city must accept and begin the process by September 15, or the grant will automatically be rejected.
While the intent of the grant is to provide permanent positions to the city's fire department, the city won't be obligated to retain the 15 new employees beyond the life of the grant.
The new positions are part of a restructuring of the department that is intended to improve response times by providing full-time support to the department's current paid, on-call firefighters. The restructuring was a key component of a study undertaken by an ad-hoc fire department study commission, which was formed by the city in late 2017.
The study found the city consistently falls below the recommended national standard of response times in various parts of the city. Those response times, the committee found, are due to the paid-on call nature of the department, which requires firefighters to first drive to the department's station, prepare, then drive to the dispatched location, rather than respond directly from the station.
Under the restructure, the department would retain five full-time firefighters at the station at all times, requiring 15 additional employees to fill out three shifts. Paid, on-call firefighters would still provide coverage for the majority of workload, with the full-time employees supporting the existing structure.
Council unanimously approved accepting the grant, with councilman Ben Giovanelli absent.