Lynn expects to avoid further closures of its fire stations as a result of a new federal grant to hire 10 new firefighters.
The $1.5 million award is being provided by the US Department of Homeland Security as a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant.
City officials said the infusion of federal dollars provides a welcome boost to a department that has had to frequently take equipment and stations offline over the past decade because of staffing shortages.
“Thanks to the SAFER Grant funds, the city should be able to keep all pieces of firefighting equipment in service, and avoid the periodic closings that have been necessary in the past,” Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said in a statement.
The grant follows a separate $1.4 million SAFER grant Lynn received in February 2011, which also paid for hiring 10 firefighters.
Since the beginning of 2011, six other area fire departments — in Amesbury, Chelsea, Lawrence, Malden, Revere, and Tyngsborough — have also received staffing grants, which are administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The grants are intended to help fire departments increase the numbers of trained front-line firefighters. They can be used to hire new firefighters or to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters.
Lynn Fire Chief Dennis J. Carmody said the grants represent a good investment of taxpayer funds because they are put to immediate use in enhancing public safety.
“This is definitely getting bang for the buck. You are seeing a fire station open that two years ago was closed because two years ago we didn’t have enough firefighters on duty to keep it open,” said Carmody, who joined Mayor Kennedy and US Representative John F. Tierney at the city’s fire headquarters for the recent grant announcement.
Tierney, a Salem Democrat, said that 25 fire departments in his district had received about $6 million combined through various grant programs the last few years.
“With added responsibilities of fire departments after 9/11 . . . as well as the economy’s slow growth, cities and towns have been under financial pressure and struggling to provide the safety and security necessary for their residents and businesses,” Tierney said in remarks prepared for the event. “These federal grants have helped keep stations opened and manned, and equipment functioning so as to keep firefighters and residents safer.”
Carmody said his department’s complement of firefighters gradually dropped from about 200 in the early 2000s to about 170 in fiscal 2009 because of retirements and a lack of funding to fill the resulting vacancies.
“We have not been keeping up with the amount of firefighters going out the door,” he said.
Because of the drop in numbers, Carmody said the department since about 2004 has operated below the minimum 41 firefighters per shift the National Fire Protection Association says is needed to protect a city of Lynn’s 90,000 population. He said Lynn has a minimum manning level of 35 firefighters per shift, and typically operates at about that number.
When the number of firefighters falls below 35 on a shift, which Carmody said is a common occurrence, the department on a rotating basis takes offline one of the six engine and three ladder trucks housed at its six stations. When an engine truck is housed in a station by itself and is taken out of service, the station has to close.
The 10 firefighters hired through the 2011 grants, and 14 others hired through city funds, allowed the department to increase its ranks to about 180 by January despite additional retirements last year.
Carmody said that he anticipates the new grant money, coming on top of the 2011 grant and the added city funds, will allow him to bring the ranks of the department up to 190 firefighters as of this fall.
That manpower level will ensure the department regularly meets or exceeds its minimum manning number, avoiding the need for any shutdown of stations or trucks, Carmody said.
Carmody said that the additional staffing will translate into improved safety for the public and for fire crews since the department will be able to respond more quickly to emergencies and to dispatch more firefighters and trucks to the scene.
The 2011 and recent grants both expire after two years, so the city will need to fund the jobs going forward if it wants to maintain them. Carmody is hopeful the initial 10 jobs can be funded in the future through reduced overtime, and it will up to city leaders on whether and how to maintain the newest 10 jobs when the most recent grant expires.
John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.