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City hopes to snag grant to pay for six firefighters
SAFER grant offered by Dept. of Homeland Security

The city is hopeful that it will win a second round of a federal grant through the Department of Homeland Security to help pay for six firefighters whose hiring was made possible by the grant several years ago.

The city snagged a two-year Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant in 2012 which allowed the city to hire six firefighters on a temporary basis. When the grant funding dried up, however, firefighters in September pressured the City Council to find ways to keep the six employed. To make that happen, the council agreed to dip into Measure H tax funds by $100,000 as part of a way to cover the $393,000 expense for the remainder of the year to keep the six. To find money to keep the six, however, the city resorted to saving in overtime costs by "browning out" Ceres Fire Station #3, which experiences the least call volume of all four stations, and using existing personnel to cover shifts when they become absent.

The city, however, is putting a lot of hope in snagging a retention grant to relieve the city.

The city nearly released firefighters Gregory Selvera, Vince Milbeck, William Dyer, David Steenburgh, Chris Steenburgh and Rui Carapinha on Sept. 22, 2014 because $1.03 million in SAFER grant funds were expended. The city hired the six with the caveat that the jobs were offered only as long as funding was available.

Ceres stands a good chance of getting a retention grant to renew funding, said Deputy Fire Chief Bryan Nicholes.

In September, Mayor Chris Vierra issued a warning that if the city is unable to get a second SAFER grant that the layoffs would be imminent when he said: "If we are not successful, I would say to those of you out in the audience that we'll do everything that we can to keep as many of you as we can through Measure H or whatever form, but don't harbor any illusions that we can keep you all if we don't have the grant. We said this two years ago, we knew we don't have the funds."

Keeping the six firefighters allows Ceres to have three-man engine staffing at three stations. A two-person engine company is at Ceres Fire Station 3. The department's goal is to obtain a minimum of three firefighters per shift at each station. That means the city would need to increase the on-duty staffing from nine to 12.

Nicholes said that the city is not compliant with the National Fire Protection Association Standard 1710 as it relates to the number of firefighters who respond to an emergency call. The city would be compliant if it increased Fire Department staffing by 21 firefighters.

SAFER grants were designed to help fire departments throughout the country increase frontline firefighters, rehire firefighters who have been laid off, retain firefighters facing imminent layoffs or fill positions that were vacated through attrition. The objective of the SAFER program is to augment or restore local fire departments' staffing and deployment capabilities so they may more efficiently respond to emergencies.