firefighters and fire police were ironically called into action Monday night, right when supervisors were set to approve the FDMT operational officers and Relief Association officers.
It was a night that showed the department is in need of more firefighters to continue its services to the township.
The township – and FDMT – are hoping to obtain a $352,000 SAFER grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in order to hire two full-time firefighters and purchase protective equipment for up to 10 new volunteers at a cost of $30,000.
About 15 percent of the $63 million of the total funding of the overall SAFER grant would be allocated for hiring of new firefighters.
On top of that, supervisors approved the purchase of three multi-gas meters and the retrofitting of six self-contained breathing apparatuses at $11,943.71. The money for these purchases was in the form of a grant awarded to FDMT by the 2012 Pennsylvania Fire Commissioner’s Volunteer Firefighter/Volunteer Ambulance Service Grant.
For the SAFER grant, township Director of Fire Services Rick Lesniak said the application period opened on Jan. 30 and closes Feb. 24.
“Hiring firefighters or to take action to recruit or retain firefighters is the primary focus of the grant program,” Lesniak said.
The grant enhances local fire departments’ abilities to comply with staffing, deployment, response and operational standards established by the National Fire Protection Association and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to Lesniak.
By increasing staff, the department can respond to emergencies quicker, reduce response time, and respond to emergencies whenever they occur in the township or beyond.
Lesniak said hiring two full-time firefighters would reduce the number of part-time shifts from eight to two per week.
One position would work four, 10-hour days, he said.
The second position would be tasked with developing a recruitment, retention and marketing plan for FDMT, in order to recruit new members.
Lesniak said the department needs new members “to continually operate, whether it be firefighters who are out responding to calls or administrative duties.”
“The hiring of these firefighters would allow us to meet the current NFPA standards and OSHA standards, which require two firefighters be inside, while two remain outside the building,” Lesniak said.
The grant would cover the first two years of three years – the federal government would pay for salaries and benefits.
The third year would require Montgomery Township to pay salaries and benefits.
“There is no contractual obligation after that to maintain the positions, but certainly we would hope that you would continue to fund those positions,” Lesniak said.
Supervisor Mike Fox asked if FDMT had been awarded SAFER grants in the past.
“We have not been successful in past years,” said township Manager Larry Gregan. “The change this year has been they reduced the length of the time period of the grant. It used to be a five-year grant, with four years covered under grant funding. Now, it is reduced to a three-year grant.”
Gregan said the reduction in longevity might be to allow more organizations to be funded with financial assistance.
“I thought it was taken advantage of by municipalities and cities that had laid off fire workers and they were able to bring them back under this program?” asked Fox.
Lesniak said the main priority of the grant is to rehire laid-off firefighters.
“The secondary priority,” he said, “is to expand the department. The third priority is to recruit and retain firefighters.”
Fox said the program was a good idea for FDMT.
Gregan told supervisors the hiring of new firefighters would not affect township budgets for three years.
“It’s not a commitment, it’s not an obligation, but it is an opportunity to apply to see if there is funding to help,” Gregan said. “The interesting part of the three years is being able to bring on two full-time firefighters we would be able to eliminate a number of part-time shifts.”
He said there would be almost zero debt on the cost versus grant funding over a three-year time period.
The PA Fire Commissioner’s grant will allow FDMT to purchase new multi-gas meters and SCBA units that include a “Buddy Breather” system.
“The multi-gas meters are portable monitors that monitor the atmosphere for explosive limits, changes in oxygen levels and the presence of carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide,” Lesniak said. “The SCBA Buddy Breathers allow a firefighter who is low on air to connect to another firefighter to supplement his or her air level.”
Prior to the grant approvals, supervisors approved the 2012 FDMT officers and Relief Association officers.
FDMT Chief Bill Wiegman introduced each officer in attendance at the meeting.
The 2012 operational officers for FDMT are: Deputy Chief Ed Skrzat; Assistant Chief David Vasconez; Battalion Chief Joe Simes; Captain Joe Bennett; Captain Frank Colelli; Captain William Fluck; Lt. Steve Cohen; Lt. Paul Smith; FDMT Fire Police Captain Rob Bailey; Fire Police Lt. Joe Adams; Health and Safety Officer Joan Anton; and Chief Engineer Mike Bean.
Administrative officers for 2012 are: Alex Olimpo, president; Vinay Setty, vice president; Melanie Vasconez, treasurer; Tim Murray, ways and means; and Dave Wolfe, secretary.
Relief Association officers are: David Wolfe, president; Vinay Setty, vice president; Melanie Vasconez, treasurer; and William Fluck, secretary.
“Thank you for everything you do,” congratulated supervisors Chairwoman Candyce Chimera.