SARATOGA SPRINGS — A $4.1 million grant from the federal government will allow the Fire Department to add 16 employees to staff its third fire station, which is slated to open in 2023.
U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced the funding, which is allocated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in a press release Thursday. The city of Troy also received almost $3.7 million in funding to aid in its efforts to increase staffing by 14 employees.
“We’re unbelievably excited and ecstatic that we have this opportunity and that we were awarded such a fantastic grant,” said Joe Dolan, the Saratoga Springs fire chief.
The Fire Department currently has 66 employees, Dolan said. Because the city had been planning for the grant, Dolan said they are in the process of doing background checks on four new firefighters already in hopes of bringing them on in October.
With the grant, Dolan said,the department will get to around 85 employees.
“We’re going to be actively seeking and recruiting people who are interested in being firefighters and paramedics for our organizations,” he said.
While the department has been waiting for the grant it has been looking at various staffing models, Dolan said.
One they have implemented includes a command shift officer in a car who can readily respond to calls and offer assistance to responders at the scene who may need additional manpower.
“Putting a shift commander in a car allows him to have that view of the entire city rather than be focused on the specific incident or for large scale incidents it gives him the autonomy or her the autonomy to step back and make better decisions,” Dolan said.
It’s about finding ways to provide the best service possible, said James Montagnino, the city’s public safety commissioner.
“The goal is to maintain the four member level but we may need to go to creative means to assure that, particularly when there are situations where members are on vacation or away at training or there are sick days, those kinds of things that happen,” he said.
Dolan said as part of figuring out shift models the department will be looking at various aspects of the job like call volumes.
The new employees will staff the about $9 million fire station currently under construction that will cover the eastern portion of the city that borders Saratoga Lake. Dolan said the area has grown significantly over the past 30 years.
“With that growth comes increased calls in service,” he said.
Right now both stations one and two cover the area, but response times can be in excess of eight or nine minutes, Dolan said.
“We hope by putting this station where it’s located it’s going to significantly reduce those response times,” he said.
The grant, which doesn’t have a local match, will cover the recruiting, equipping, training and salaries of personnel for the department, Montagnino said. That grant is to be paid out over three years.
One stipulation of the grant, Montagnino said, is that after it has expired those employees can not be laid off.
That means the city has a three-year window to figure out how to cover the 16 positions in its annual budget.
“Our entire City Council is new — this is our first year in office,” he said. “We inherited a setup where there is no plan for the future. In fact the budget for this year — the 2022 budget — was based on projections that were inaccurate and exaggerated. So, we’re in the process of preparing next year’s budget and are really having to sharpen our pencils to come up with next year’s budget. We’re hoping to have something like a three-year plan worked out in the course of the next year, so we’re not running from one year to the next scrambling for funds.”
Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @ByBriere.