AMESBURY — The city is poised to add eight new firefighters thanks to a grant of more than $2 million from the federal government.
Fire Chief Ken Berkenbush said the $2.1 million infusion of cash is coming from FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program.
If accepted by the City Council, the funding, known as a SAFER Grant, would cover the salary and benefits of the eight firefighters, as well as their gear, for the next three years.
“This pays for everything that is needed to get them outfitted and equipped to go out and work,” Berkenbush said. “The federal government will pick up 100% of everything for three years.”
He acknowledged the positions will create an added tax burden in three years, but offered ideas to lessen the impact.
“We could gradually increase the budget so that it is not such a big hit in the end,” Berkenbush said. “Or we can plan to wait until the end of the three years and then do it all at once. But we are working on trying to figure out how to have the least amount of impact on the taxpayer as we can.”
Mayor Kassandra Gove said in a press release that the city needs to keep up with its increasing population.
“Amesbury is seeing growth in residential and commercial developments, and our public safety teams need to grow in response to that,” Gove said. “While we are grateful for the mutual aid we are able to get from surrounding towns, it increases the overall response time to an emergency. This grant allows our Fire Department to take even better care of our community, without impacting our taxpayers for the first three years.”
According to Berkenbush, Fire Department call volume has increased by 48% since 2010, but the city has not had an increase in staffing since 2000. He said having eight new first responders will speak to this discrepancy.
“We can either handle two medical aids or one motor vehicle crash, or we can go to one master box fire alarm. But we can do things at once,” Berkenbush said. “The only thing that we can really do, back to back, is medical aids. With this (the new positions), we would have the ability to staff up both ambulances and allow a fire engine to remain in service to handle additional calls.”
Fire Lt. Rob Serino wrote the SAFER Grant application, Berkenbush said.
Serino was also responsible for another recent FEMA grant of $947,619.05 to purchase a new fire truck.
“He has become our hidden gem,” Berkenbush said. “He not only writes grants for us, he writes them for Newbury, Rowley. He’s done them for Georgetown. He also got us a $250,000 training grant two years ago. So he has literally brought in millions of federal dollars to the local fire and EMS industry in our area.”
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.