Ogdensburg officials applying for SAFER grant to offset firefighter costs
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
OGDENSBURG – Ogdensburg City Manager Stephen Jellie said the city will be applying for a SAFER grant, which can be used to help offset costs associated with firefighter positions for a three-year period.
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (SAFER) was created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase or maintain the number of trained, "front line" firefighters available in their communities.The goal of SAFER is to enhance the local fire departments' abilities to comply with staffing, response and operational standards established by the NFPA.
“Yes it’s open. Yes we are working on it. Yes we will consult with the (International Firefighters Association) expert. I just want to make sure the council's clear on this,” he said. “You can listen to all the experts, there’s a lot of them. Everybody who thinks there is a process that there is some magic involved in. The SAFER grant is one of the few grants out there that is very, very objective.”
Jellie said it’s objective for a reason so all fire departments can compete fairly. He also noted that it’s highly competitive. Several residents accused the city manager of purposefully submitting a weak application for the grant last time around, but he says that’s not the case.
Jellie said last year the city wasn’t as competitive because they had the recommended four-firefighters minimum on a shift, but with a recent change to three-firefighter’s minimum the application will have a better chance.
Jellie said he doesn’t expect to hear back until summer or late fall so it won’t impact the budget until 2023.
The discussion regarding the SAFER grant descended into some concerns from council regarding the three-firefighter minimum change.
Councilor John Rishe said that during the budget discussions, he didn’t think Jellie said anything about reducing the four-man shift to a three-man shift.
Jellie said he did and that he would supply that information to verify it to councilors.
Jellie said he was concerned that the council was so “uniformed” on the topic.
Jellie also said he believes there are ways to continue with four people per shift, but that it would require concessions from firefighters.
“I think it’s a fair ask. It’s $200,000,” he said, adding that it could be used to fill positions.
He also noted that even if the money was there to hire more firefighters, he is unsure they could fill the positions anyway.
Jellie went on to reaffirm that the decision to reduce fire positions was due to finances and nothing else.
“This is going to become a stupid discussion. It’s just a stupid discussion. Nobody wants to see anyone in danger. I’m not comfortable with a three person minimum staffing. I’m not comfortable with it. But I’m not comfortable with the city expending resources that we don’t have either,” he said. “It’s going to lead us to no fire department.”
Jellie said the cost is just too high.
“There is a reason why we are the only community in this county that has a fully paid staff,” he said.
The matter is likely to be discussed at the upcoming workshop set for Jan. 31 at 6 p.m.