Grant could create jobs

Published 10:01 am Wednesday, June 8, 2005

By By Lee Weyhrich
The Atmore Fire Department and the Poarch Volunteer Fire Department may be putting up "help wanted" signs before too long.
Both departments are applying for the Staffing and Adequate Fire and Emergency (SAFER) grant, which would allow the fire departments to receive funding from the federal government to pay new employees' salaries.
"It's going to help a lot of the departments that can not afford men," Atmore Fire Chief Gerry McGhee said. "FEMA has put out a lot of money for firemen for each department. We're applying for it and I know Poarch is for manpower."
The money would help pay for new employees for the city's fulltime department and it would provide money for retention and recruiting for Poarch's mostly volunteer department.
"As far as I know, for the first time their actually going to fund firefighter salaries," Poarch's grant writer Arlene Mack said. "The budgets will vary according to your section of the country. They are allowing volunteers and combination departments, like ours, to apply for the grant."
This may be the first time the government has offered a grant like this.
"It's excellent," Mack said. "I've never seen a grant like this. I've seen them for equipment, education and prevention, but this is the first one for salaries."
Both fire departments are still in the early stages of the grant proposal, but Poarch will meet today to discuss the issue in detail.
"We have a grants team meeting Wednesday at 9 a.m. to discuss what the (fire) chief would like in this grant," Mack said. "We staff these things out and we decide if it's feasible, if it's needed and if it can be administered."
Until the grant proposal is accepted by the government neither fire department will know exactly how much money the grant will provide or how many jobs could open up.
"I don't know if they're going to set a limit on how many salaries they fund," Mack said. "Optimally we'd like four more employees."
According to information provided by Sen. Richard Shelby's office, The SAFER program provides financial assistance to assure that there are always additional front-line firefighters by helping a department to increase its ability to respond 24-hours a day.
"This will help with staffing for adequate fire and emergency services," Mack said. "If you've got 10 firefighters out there (responding to a house fire) you have five inside and five outside, so there's always backup in an emergency."

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