The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department is receiving a $14.4 million federal grant to bolster its workforce.
JFRD Director and Fire Chief Keith Powers said Tuesday the federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program has been used by the department before, allowing it to hire 102 firefighters in the last five years.
“The safer grant is a major part of firefighter safety,” Powers said.
Powers said the funding will allow his department to hire 60 more firefighters, which will help more crews to meet safety standards when going out into the community.
The grant can also be used to retain firefighters and prevent layoffs.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry spoke at the media conference where the grant was announced. He said the money is a huge help for a fire department that has been through hardships lately.
“Now here we are facing this pandemic,” Curry said. “They’re providing the transport, we've had scenarios where some of them had to be quarantined as they've walked into unknown scenarios and unknown homes.”
A big change from previous years is the cost-sharing aspect of the grant program. In years prior, the departments applying for the program needed to pay for 25% of the firefighters’ hiring costs and salaries. This year, the grant will cover 100% of the firefighter’s salary for three years.
“Unfortunately, fire departments across the nation are experiencing economic pressures during the pandemic,” said Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf at the conference. “These pressures have an impact on municipal budgets, and are straining existing first responder personnel across the country.”
Wolf urged other fire departments across the nation to take part in applying for the SAFER grant.
The deadline to apply for the program is Wednesday, May 27 at 5 p.m.
The grant comes at the same time as the Jacksonville City Council discusses legislation that would encourage the hiring of more women and minorities in the JFRD.
“One of the biggest areas we struggle in with hires is making sure that our department looks just like the community that we serve,” Powers said.
Powers said he would lead the program’s recruiting process himself.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.