PAWTUCKET — Thanks to some convincing grant writing and aided by congressional support, Pawtucket will be receiving over $4 million in federal funds to hire 21 new firefighters.
At a press conference held Monday at Station 1 on Cottage Street, Mayor Donald Grebien announced that the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant will go directly toward hiring 21 front line firefighters. The SAFER grant will cover the cost of all pay and benefits for the new positions over the next two years. The funding is a competitive grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Grebien noted that the SAFER grants were created by Congress to provide financial assistance to fire departments in communities around the nation that, like Pawtucket, face financial challenges. “So we are far from being alone in that need,” he stated. This year, SAFER grants are expected to fund the hiring of several thousand firefighters throughout the U.S. and in so doing, “will be giving a much-needed boost to public safety in countless struggling communities,” he stated.
It was beyond good news for the city and the beleaguered Pawtucket Fire Department, which has been grappling with hefty overtime costs and staffing shortages that even necessitated an engine company being removed from service from Station 1 for a brief period last year. This will bring the Pawtucket Fire Department, which has been operating with vacancies and budgetary constraints for the past three years, up to 151 firefighters from its present rank of 128.
Fire Chief William Sisson called it “a glorious day for us” and praised the city and state officials, as well as the International Association of Firefighters Local 1261 and FEMA for their “collaboration” in making the grant happen. He said, however, that this hadn't been an easy process, and in fact, was not the first time that the city had applied for the SAFER grant.
Sisson singled out the two firefighters who wrote the grant, Lt. Gil Woodside and Lt. Ed Shotteck, for their diligent efforts. The pair not only earned the city the $4.2 million in SAFER funds but had earlier authored a grant that brought $528,038 through a federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) to help purchase 75 new self-contained breathing apparatus units. The funds, he said, will ensure that the citizens of Pawtucket will be “well protected” and the firefighters “well-supplied.”
Read more in Tuesday's Times.