Muscatine Fire Department vying for Department of Homeland Security funding

MUSCATINE, Iowa (KWQC) – While the Department of Homeland Security and its employees wait on Congress to come through with long-term funding to keep that federal agency running, local communities are counting on the Department of Homeland Security to come through with money for them.

The Muscatine Fire Department submitted its application for what is called a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant from the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday.

“What it is is to help fire departments increase their staffing, keep people from losing their jobs, and make the public more safe,” Muscatine’s Assistant Fire Chief, Mike Hartman, explained.

If approved, Muscatine’s SAFER grant application would allow the department to fire four more firefighters for two years

“With that, that will bring our shift staffing up to 13 firefighters per shift, and bring us more in line with comparable fire departments,” Hartman said.

That would also help ease the burden on individual firefighters as the number of calls for help continues to increase. The call volume climbed 10 percent in 2014 alone, and the work load in terms of emergency calls per person has increased 50 percent since 2004, Hartman said.

“So with that, our people are spending more time on emergency calls and less time training, less time doing the prevention efforts that we really need to do,” he said.

Muscatine fire officials say having more staff is especially important for them because this department does EMS calls and out of town transfers for medical patients. That takes at least two staff members out of the rotation for at least three hours, leaving resources stretched thin.

“With fewer firefighters on scene, firefighters will do whatever they need to do to get the job done, and many times they’ll put themselves into harms way when they really shouldn’t need to,” Hartman said.

“The big thing with adequate staffing is safety,” he added. “It’s safety of the firefighters. It’s safety of the public.”

Hartman says the SAFER grant would be critical for Muscatine’s fire department. And, it’s critical for Congress to act to make sure DHS can fund the program.

“I guess the big thing is for the lawmakers to consider the impact that they have on everybody’s lives,” he said.

“In 2013, when they had the government shutdown, there were a lot of concerns with that. I don’t think it really turned out that way, but had the government shut down for a longer period of time, there were some fire departments that were looking at laying off those individuals who were funded by the SAFER grant,” he explained.

Still, Hartman says, as long as lawmakers act to fund the Department of Homeland Security relatively soon, the impact here would be pretty minimal.

“We won’t find out if we got the grant until August or September and then it’s up to six months after that when we actually receive the funds and go ahead and start with the staffing,” he said.

“Any time you deal with the federal government, you have those ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, but we will go ahead and work through whatever we have to to get our staff and keep our staff and keep doing what we do,” Hartman added.

Burlington’s Fire Department was awarded a SAFER grant to assist with hiring last year.

The Davenport Fire Department was awarded a SAFER grant of its own at the end of 2013.

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