Long Beach Fire Department receives FEMA grant to hire new firefighters, maintain services

The grant money may need to be returned if a 'difficult budget situation' reduces required number of fire staff, official says.

The Long Beach Fire Department (LBFD) was successful in acquiring a federal grant last month that will help pay for new firefighter hires, Acting Long Beach City Manager Tom Modica announced in a memo on Oct. 17.

The grant highlighted the need to hire 12 additional firefighters to partially support the reopening of Fire Station 17, which had its Fire Engine 17 return to service on Oct. 16 after the station had received substantial budget cuts in 2012.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) granted the City with the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant, which will provide between $2.3 million to $2.8 million from Fiscal Year 2020 to Fiscal Year 2023.

David Honey, manager of LBFD Administration, told the Signal Tribune Friday that the grant will pay to hire new firefighters coming out of the academy. Fire recruits undergo 16 weeks of academy training before they can call a station home, but Honey said the grant money could help kickstart another academy cycle sooner.

The memo stated that the SAFER grant would pay for 75% of the employees’ salaries and benefits for the first two years of the grant. Then, it would cover 35% of the costs the third year.

Honey said that the grant’s funds puts the City in a “good spot,” but there is a catch. According to Modica’s memo, the grant money would possibly have to be repaid if future City budget constraints resulted in the reduction of fire personnel.

“The SAFER grant requires that we maintain staffing levels during the grant performance period,” Honey said. “So, if the City’s financial situation where to require cuts to operational fire staff, we could possibly be in a position in which we might be required to return some of the grant funds.”

Honey added that the fire department is already covering the required amount of staff needed at Fire Station 17 with current personnel. He said the SAFER grant funds would be used to hire new firefighters in the meantime.

The memo also stated that it had been previously reported to the city council that “significant General Fund shortfalls are currently projected during the grant performance period.”

Despite acquiring the SAFER grant and $4.7 million for two years via Measure A sales tax, Modica wrote in the memo that the City would be somewhere between $700,000 to $1.2 million short of what is required to maintain Fire Engine 17 during the grant period, which ends in March 2023.

“That’s a little bit longer than what the council had originally authorized for engine 17 because they gave us $4.7 million for two years of funding,” Honey said. “So, there needs to be either another Measure A or General Fund support for that additional time period.”

When the FY 2020 City Budget was proposed in July, city officials announced that pension costs were going to cause the City budget to fluctuate over time.

“With the expected difficult budget situation, the SAFER grant is an extremely welcomed addition to current one-time funding for Fire Engine 17,” Modica wrote in the memo, ” which has been restored by the city council with funding for two years.”

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Sebastian Echeverry, Managing Editor

The first-born child of Colombian immigrants, Sebastian Echeverry has been working as a professional journalist in SoCal for the past four years. His byline...