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Granite Quarry will seek grant to help with Fire Department staffing

By Mark Wineka

mark.wineka@salisburypost.com

GRANITE QUARRY — After a lengthy discussion about what kind of staffing the town can afford, the Granite Quarry Board of Aldermen decided Monday night to apply for a grant that would help hire three additional full-time firefighters for at least three years.

What the town would do in the fourth year after the federal grant would run out was the big question for Mayor Bill Feather and the board.

Fire Chief Dale Brown asked town officials to consider applying for a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant. SAFER is a subcategory of the Assistance to Firefighter grant programs offered through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The town already has a grant submitted for self-contained breathing pack replacements.

Brown said the grant request for staffing would ask for three full-time firefighters. If awarded — and that’s not a guarantee — the grant would cover 75 percent of the cost, or about $114,000 a year for the first two years.

The town would pay the remaining 25 percent, or about $38,000 a year.

For the third and final year, the grant would pay 35 percent of the cost of three firefighters, or  about $53,200. The town then would be responsible for $98,800. In the fourth and subsequent years, should the town keep these three firefighters on the payroll, it would absorb the whole cost.

The cost of applying for the grant would be a $1,500 fee to the grant writer. Should the grant be awarded, the grant writer would receive an additional $5,000.

Since the board’s retreat in February, Brown has been emphasizing to the town board the critical need for more men and women in his department to make sure equipment can leave the building when a call comes in.

The Granite Quarry department has three full-timers now, one for each eight-hour shift in the day. It otherwise has to depend on part-time help and volunteers to ensure that calls can be answered.

Brown said his goal is to have three-person staffing 24 hours a day.

China Grove and Landis each operate with six full-time firefighters. Granite Quarry has its three, and other Rowan County municipalities, not counting Salisbury and Kannapolis, do not have more than one.

Feather warned his fellow board members that if they decide to commit to a grant, they also are committing to an additional $152,000 or more per year four years from now when the grant is up.

That would represent an additional 7.5 cents per $100 valuation on the tax rate, he added.

“I’m saying we need to go into it with our eyes wide open,” Feather said.

The mayor said he is concerned the town is not seeing junior firefighters developed as they once were and asked whether the Fire Department is doing everything it can in terms of recruiting and training.

“Do we have a comprehensive plan to do all these things, or are we doing this by the seat of our pants?” Feather asked.

Brown said those kinds of efforts are ongoing. “It has never stopped,” he said.

But the competition for trained firefighters is keen, and the talent pool of part-time and volunteer men and women is diminishing as more departments have to transition to full-time staffs, Brown said.

“This is a big decision,” Town Manager Phil Conrad said. The town would “really be stepping up our game in terms of service,” Conrad said.

“Is it the solution for our town today?” he asked.

Feather said there’s no question the town needs the manpower to make sure a firetruck can leave the station on every call, but he emphasized again that what the aldermen were talking about Monday night could potentially affect the town substantially four years from now.

“It’s just a big decision, guys,” Feather said.

A grant would not be awarded until early 2019. Brown said he would keep trying to address the additional staff his department needs through part-timers and volunteers.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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