The Boardman Fire Department has received notice that it is receiving a $601,680 federal grant to form a new volunteer force within the department. Notification of the grant came late Wednesday night, way ahead of expectations.
"We didn't know we were going to get it this soon," said Boardman Township Administrator Jason Loree. "It came as a big surprise."
The grant, which is a Federal Emergency Management Agency fire grant, covers the start up, formation, and continuation of a volunteer firefighter crew. Loree said it would cover the cost of 25 volunteers, who would respond and be paid per call.
Loree said fire Chief George Brown assisting in writing the grant and said even he was amazed at how fast it was approved.
The grant will provide more than $256,000 in the first year to get the volunteer program started. It will help provide equipment, will cover background checks, physicals, training and will provide the funds for call outs when the volunteers respond to a call. It also provides the cost for fringe benefits, a retention program, advertising for recruits and for someone to manage the volunteer program.
"The start up costs are always huge," Loree said. "After the initial purchases, the costs drop off."
In year two, the grant will provide $118,790, $111,690 in year three, and $114,950 in the fourth year. Those years cover the costs of maintaining the crew of 25 volunteers.
"It will be like a sub-department within the fire department," Loree said. "It is actually a great concept and I get the impression there are a lot of residents who may want to apply to the department as a volunteer."
He said the next step for the township is to talk with the present union that represents the full-time firefighters. The notice of the grant award came as such a surprise, there was no time to meet with the union. He doesn't see a problem as the new volunteer force would not take away from the full-time force, but would add more firefighters to the roster and for safety when a major fire call goes out.
Loree said there was a volunteer staff in the department until 2008 when budget cuts did away with it. Now the department not only has a chance to get it back, but add 25 firefighters to its roster. Presently, there are 38 full-time fire department personnel. With the volunteer force, that number would be 63 who would respond to fire calls.
One other positive stemming from a large volunteer force is that when a full-time firefighter retires or resigns, one of the volunteers could easily step up to full time and already have knowledge and training. In essence it gives the Boardman Fire Department a pool to choose from when filling open full-time positions.
The real plus for residents is that it won't cost them a cent. The 100-percent federally funded grant lasts four years. After that, the township would have to fund the program, but costs would be minimal since all the start-up costs would be out of the way.