Kannapolis to use FEMA grant for 16 firefighters

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 21, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS — Within weeks, a $1.45 million federal grant will bring 16 new firefighters to the Kannapolis Fire Department, Fire Chief Ernie Hiers said.
That’s going to make residents safer, and help keep firefighters themselves safe, he said.
And it’ll also give the city enough manpower to put the department’s new ladder truck, purchased in 2009, to full use.
The grant is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s SAFER grant program.
SAFER —Staffing For Adequate Fire & Emergency Response — is a program that gives money directly to departments so they may recruit or hire firefighting personnel.
The grants are intended to help departments improve their response times and bridge the gap between currently available funds and future needs.
Congress authorizes the grant pool each year, Hiers said.
Kannapolis was awarded the $1.45 million in the sixth round of awards, according to documentation on the FEMA website.
So far, a total of $256.9 million has been awarded nationwide for the 2011 fiscal year.
Of those 16 positions, 15 are brand-new, Hiers said. The remaining slot was a vacancy that was eliminated during budget cuts two years ago.
With the economy still a concern, perhaps just as important as this award is the fact that the city has already made plans to fund the new positions.
City Manager Mike Legg said that Kannapolis’ long-range financial plans include the amount needed to maintain all of these positions, and that there will be enough revenues to do so at current levels.
“Having the right number of staff at a given time is important,” said Legg, whose staff also included new funds for police officers in the 2013 budget.
Both Legg and Hiers cited the importance of adequate firefighters for the city’s western response areas.
Plus, being able to use both of the city’s ladder trucks regularly will help.
“Anytime you get more manpower, it’s going to assist us in our response times,” Hiers said.
The newest of the two is currently at Station 1, not far from the N.C. Research Campus and the center of town.
The second ladder truck is housed at Station 5, at 2046 Barr Road.
That station covers the Afton Ridge shopping center off Interstate 85, as well as voluntarily-annexed parcels to the west.
But, Hiers said, the National Fire Protection Association, a standards group for fire departments, calls for at least four personnel to man a ladder truck — two firefighters, a captain and a driver.
So, he said, most of the time that second ladder truck is kept in reserve, used in situations when off-duty firefighters are called in to assist.
“Right now, our ladder truck running out of Station 1 covers the entire city,” Hiers said.
And that can mean a response time of as much as 14 to 16 minutes, depending on traffic.
Now, Hiers said, the personnel level anticipated in 2009 when that new truck was bought has arrived.
Instead of 20 or 21 firefighters per shift, he said, all three shifts will have 26 firefighters.
And, with a second ladder truck and increased staffing, Hiers said that the next North Carolina state inspection should see an improvement in the city’s fire insurance rating.
Currently, Kannapolis has a score of 4 on the Insurance Service Office’s rating scale.
Hiers said that the last inspection cited a need for another ladder truck to serve the city.
If the city’s score improves to a 3, which Hiers said is possible at the next inspection, then some larger businesses may see lower insurance rates.
According to ISO documentation, there should be no impact on homeowners’ insurance rates.
Kannapolis has 90 days to bring the new firefighters on board, Hiers said, but has lost no time.
The new positions were advertised last week, Hiers said, and the deadline to apply was 5 p.m. Friday.
For two years, the grant will reimburse the city for salary and benefits paid to those firefighters.
“It’s really good, because honestly it boils down to safety, not only for our citizens but for our firefighters,” Hiers said.
That’s because more personnel means less fatigue, and more assistance when emergencies do happen.
“It’s going to be a big advancement, a big thing for our department,” Hiers said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.