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Saturday, July 14, 2012

SJFD: SAFER grant will restore 27 San Jose firefighters

San Jose received $8.6 million SAFER grant to hire 27 new firefighters

The award follows a $15 million, two-year staffing grant San Jose received from the same agency last year that helped restore the jobs of the 49 firefighters let go in 2010.

For the second consecutive year, the San Jose Fire Department has won a multimillion-dollar federal grant that will enable it to hire more staff, and help it reduce "brownouts," caused when the department doesn't have enough firefighters to staff a four-person fire engine.

The $8.6 million, two-year fire staffing grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be used to train 27 new recruits.

"What this will mean to us is the ability to place critical resources back on to the street," San Jose fire Chief William McDonald told a few dozen people gathered at news conference Friday in the Fire Department's training center.

10 years ago San Jose had sworn 722 firefighters but wasn't closing in on 1 million residents.

San Jose fire Capt. Mary Gutierrez said the department has 644 sworn firefighters, but is funded for 651 positions in the 2012-13 fiscal year, which does not include the positions provided in the new grant.

"You're on the front lines of your community, for our safety, and that does not go unnoticed," Honda said to firefighters in attendance.

"The federal government recognized the fact that San Jose is such a large city, with almost 1 million people, and that our resources are depleted," Gutierrez said before the event.

The department expects the new hires to begin training in October and start work by February.

While the federal SAFER grant -- Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response -- restored 49 firefighters last year, it wasn't enough to prevent frequent "brownouts" at two stations during the past six months, Gutierrez said. The new funding will help minimize that practice, she said.

Reed and Gutierrez said the city's finances have improved enough that the city will likely be able to keep those 49 firefighters beyond the grant's deadline next year.

The two-year grant announced Friday means that the 27 new recruits also will be told that they could be laid off by 2014. But Reed told the crowd that a pension reform measure overwhelmingly passed by voters last month -- which both the fire and police unions are appealing in court -- might allow the city "to keep them fully employed after the grant runs out," he said.


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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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