East Pierce receives grant to hire new firefighters

East Pierce Fire and Rescue will soon be welcoming several new firefighters to their workforce.

On Friday, Aug. 4, Fire Chief Bud Backer sent out a press release stating the Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded East Pierce the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant, roughly $1.7 million for the next three years, in order to hire nine more firefighters to increase the department’s fire suppression abilities.

For the first year, the grant will effectively cover around 75 percent of the costs of hiring entry level firefighters, Backer said. In year two, the grant will still cover more than half of the cost, but by year three, only around 25 percent of the cost will be covered by the grant.

By year four, Backer estimated it will continue to cost the department $1.3 million to continue to employ those firefighters.

When the news of the department applying for the SAFER grant broke back in late April, Backer said East Pierce did not have the funding means to continue to employ those nine firefighters by year four, if the department received the grant.

But with the results of East Pierce’s two levy lift propositions looking to pass the Aug. 1 primary, Backer believes the department will have enough revenue to be able to keep these new firefighters on staff after the grant money runs out.

“This news, combined with our levy lid lifts being approved earlier this week, is a pretty historical moment in the history of our department,” Backer said in the release. “We are going to be able to make some significant improvements to our staffing, which will increase public and firefighter safety.”

East Pierce is required to hire grant-funded firefighter positions within the next six months. The new hires will first attend the fire academy and begin their 18 month probationary period, for which they are not counted for the department’s daily staffing level, although they still go out on calls.

Along with the firefighters who are soon to be hired with the grant money, the levy lid lifts will allow the department to hire an additional nine firefighters, for a total of 18 new recruits.

These firefighters would be dedicated to a new medic unit.

Six of the new firefighters that are starting next month are replacing firefighters who have or will soon retire, Backer continued, meaning minimum staffing will remain at 22 firefighters for the time being.

“When all is said and done the minimum staffing will go from 22 to 27,” Backer said, adding that this will allow three of the department’s fire engines to be staffed with three firefighters.

Currently, East Pierce’s ladder truck is staffed with three firefighters.