Three new firefighters will be joining the Columbia Fire Department to work at stations 10 and 11, which have not yet been built. This comes after Columbia residents said public safety is one of their top priorities.
The Columbia City Council accepted a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will pay for the new hires.
The grant is a sliding scale. It will award $401,359.35, which includes three positions, salary and benefits, at 75% for the first two years and 35% for the third year. The grant will expire after the third year.
Once the three years are up, the city will have to budget to cover the entire cost of the three positions.
City spokesman Steve Sapp said the thought process behind the sliding scale is to give municipal governments the ability to rearrange their budgets to pay for the positions.
He said that would take place during budget discussions that look at each department and the city’s overall budget. He said the Fire Department would typically look at its own budget to see if it could make the correct adjustments and then the city would look at the budget on a wider scale.
Assistant Fire Chief Brad Fraizer said the new positions will allow the Fire Department to open two new stations.
“We can fully staff one of those stations with that three-person company. So, it’s going to allow us to basically add personnel to an existing truck to bring it up to a full complement of three,” he said.
The grant will allow the department to spread people out. Fraizer said having more stations around town allows the department to lower response times. The department is looking at southwest and east Columbia to build the new stations.
He said three stations currently have two trucks. Two of those trucks with move to the new stations, and the new hires will fill three shifts.
Fraizer said the department currently has enough firefighters to fully man each truck but if the department expands further, it will have to hire people.
“We’re able to open two additional stations with the hiring of three additional firefighters because of distribution. If you go beyond that and open a third station, then that will require even more personnel. So it’s really dependent on how many fire stations we have and what kind of trucks we put in those stations,” Fraizer said.