Grant supports addition of new SFD firefighters

Published 6:03 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Suffolk Fire Department has received a $4.1 million grant to help fund additional firefighters. The 2022 Fiscal Year Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program, provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through Congress, will fund the salaries and benefits of 18 additional SFD firefighters for three years. 

This will be used in conjunction with the Fiscal Year 2020 SAFER grant of $3.4 million, which supports staffing for a previous set of 18 firefighters to hire 36 firefighters for the new Fire Station 11, expected to open in spring 2025. A groundbreaking ceremony at the station’s expected location of 6482 Hampton Roads Pkwy was held on Friday, Aug. 25, with the attendance of U.S. Sen. Mark Warner.

Suffolk Fire Chief Michael J. Barakey talked in detail about the process of the grant going through the DHS to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Email newsletter signup

“FEMA then will send out a Notice of Funding Opportunity [NOFO], and that NOFO is for what we consider is a whole broad style called Assistance to Firefighter Grants (AFG). SAFER is part of that, and SAFER is designed to put firefighters to work in the profession or trade or firefighting,” Barakey said. 

Barakey noted that what makes SAFER unique is that the program has to be used for what he referred to as “Net New Positions.”

“There can’t be two staff already existing [in] positions in any municipal or county or city fire department. With SAFER, we had to have the opportunity to net new firefighters. Hence, Station 11. Because Station 11 required net new or new FTEs (full time equivalent) that were approved by city council,” he said. “The SAFER grant — the reasoning or the NOFO, what we had to meet to be eligible, and then Station 11 all married up to give us this opportunity.”

SFD Battalion Chief Nicholas Savage, who served as grant writer and led the department’s effort for the grant, talked about how the SAFER grant will help department staff and the community.

“It will help us start [to] better achieve what’s called a NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 1710, which is also kind of a model that the SAFER grant targets, to help lower response times,” Savage said.

Savage noted that Suffolk’s northern end had a “pretty significant gap” of response time to get coverage on the scene, with he and Barakey reflecting on “seven to 12 minutes” of travel time.

“By staffing that station with these net new firefighters, we’re going to be able to shorten that time and help meet that 1710 standard,” he said.

They expressed how the grant’s support will allow them to use their resources to support SFD’s other needs. Likewise, Barakey notes that staffing of the new firefighters “cannot be ever removed.” He provided details on the funding process.

“Through our budgeting process, the city manager, as well as the HR director and the finance director, has funded those positions as if we didn’t receive them. So they were already funded by the municipal government through [the] city government,” he said. “Those salaries that are being paid by the SAFER grant, the $3.4 million in 2020 and the $4.1 million in 2022 for three years, those salary lines will be paid, and it’s reimbursed to the city. 

Barakey continued.

“So we still have to make payroll and pay for the salaries of all 36 of them, but certainly the ones that we’ve gotten previously, we have to pay those, and we — the fire department working with finance — submits a quarterly package back to DHS, and then that money is received, and then that money goes back to the city that we might be able to use for other needs. Whether in the fire department, whether in city or government that we weren’t going to have the opportunity for $7.4 million that the citizens might benefit for other reasons. So they’re already funded but will be reimbursed.”