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Date last updated: Saturday, July 28, 8:44 PST
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Vol. fire department lands $500K SAFER grant to add paid staff
By Aaron Osborne
The Knoxville News-Sentinel
SEYMOUR, Tenn. — The Seymour Volunteer Fire Department will soon have live-in firefighters, better equipment and an anticipated faster emergency response time thanks to a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA's Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant totals more than $500,000 to be allocated to different areas of the department over the next four years, according to Ted Esch, the ex-chief and current department board chairman. "I joke with folks that when I was chief I had to put out fires, and now I get to deal with the financial fires, which are just as hot," said Esch, who has volunteered with the department for more than 35 years.
The grant will provide up to nine live-in firefighters with up to $8,000 a year in tuition assistance so that they may better serve their community while also receiving an education from a degree or certificate program.
Between 10 and 12 firefighters have already expressed serious interest in the live-in positions, according to Esch.
Esch said that while this is by far the largest grant the department has ever received, it will not be enough to completely sustain the department, which currently requires about a $350,000 annual budget for six stations, 22 vehicles and equipment for more than 60 volunteers.
The department's response area covers parts of southern Knox, Blount and Sevier counties.
And with the Seymour department responding to almost 2,000 emergency calls every year, additional manpower and new equipment will certainly be necessary to help it reach greater compliance with National Fire Protection Association standards that call for at least 10 firefighters to be on scene at a structural fire within 10 minutes of an alarm, Esch said.
The grant will also pay for creation of the position of SAFER coordinator to oversee allocation of the grant and improve the department's overall effectiveness. It's the department's first paid position, according to Esch, who said they're not sure if they will hire inhouse for the position.
"If we have to go outside the department, we will. I don't think it will be one of our younger firefighters because it will be a management-type position."
As the impact of the recession recedes, Esch anticipates the day when the department will receive more calls for service — maybe 2,500 a year - as more people move into the Seymour area.
"At that number of calls, honest to God, at some point we'll probably need full-time, paid firefighters in addition to an administrator."
Copyright 2012 Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
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