Hamilton County firefighters received today an $8 million grant that will allow them to hire new firefighters.
They received the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant, a federal program that supports the hiring of firefighters and the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters.
The grant will fund a new firefighter recruit class and will align with city leaders' efforts to reduce brownouts in Cincinnati.
Mayor John Cranley expressed hope for the grant earlier this month when addressing the city's practice of brownouts. Brownouts are daily closures of fire companies that reduce staff to meet budget allocations.
City officials proposed a plan to maintain the fire department's current overtime budget, which would reduce brownouts for a maximum of two per day. They said receiving the SAFER grant would give them the funds to have full staffing, essentially eliminating brownouts.
"Firefighters put their lives on the line each day to keep our communities safe. These new federal resources will help ensure that Cincinnati has the skilled responders and updated resources they need to safely do their jobs. With so many communities already facing budget shortfalls, critical federal efforts like AFG and SAFER are pivotal in keeping our Ohio cities, towns, and villages safe," said Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.
This money will help the Cincinnati Fire Department hire 50 firefighters, and pay for all of them for two years. Those bodies are expected to restore staffing levels, and likely put an end to the city's brownouts, affecting around five of their 40 companies every day.
"This ensures that every firehouse and every fire company in the city of Cincinnati will be fully staffed with at least four firefighters at a minimum," said Matt Alter, president of the Cincinnati Fire Fighters Union IAFF Local 48.
Alter says during a hiring freeze from 2009 to 2013, the department lost around 120 firefighters. He adds, since then, two recruit classes, plus this next one slated for the spring, should get staffing levels back to where they were. This upcoming class, once in place, will train for six months before hitting the streets.
"By, potentially, November or December of 2014, we could see brownouts come to an end," Alter said.
The money covers all costs for these 50 firefighters for the next two years. But, what happens to them after two years, especially after thoughts of cutting police and firefighters during the last budget cycle?
"Long term, we'll obviously have to absorb the additional costs. But, from my point of view, safety comes first and is non-negotiable. The rest of the budget is negotiable," said Mayor John Cranley.
Cranley says the city wouldn't have had the money to fund a 50-member recruit class. That's why millions were set aside earlier this month for overtime.
"We were planning to spend an extra $2 million in overtime for firefighters if we did not get the recruit class. This will allow us to save about $2 million in the budget," said Cranley.
This multi-million dollar announcement gives Cincinnati residents, what fire leaders call, the service they deserve.
"Every neighborhood and every citizen can expect that when they call the Cincinnati Fire Department that they will have the people and resources there to answer their call," Alter told FOX19.
The city's proposed overtime plan would have reduced brownouts to no more than two a day. The brownouts were implemented in 2009.