City gets to hire more firefighters


Published: Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 1:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 1:57 p.m.

Gainesville will use an approximately $1.4 million federal grant to hire nine new firefighters.

The money from the Department of Homeland Security's Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program will cover the firefighters' salaries and benefits for two years — three years if the new hire is a military veteran.

Fire Rescue Chief Gene Prince said he plans for the firefighters to work out of Station No. 2 on Archer Road or Station No. 4 near West University Avenue and cover southwest Gainesville.

The additional hiring comes with the city concerned over the cost it pays the county to respond to emergency medical calls in areas of southwest Gainesville such as the college apartments along Southwest 20th Avenue and the Butler Plaza retail hub on Archer Road.

The county fire department's Station No. 19 at Forest Park, which a 2009 annexation placed in the city limits, responds to the majority of calls in that area, a situation that has the city paying the county hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Since 2010, the total payment to the county has been some $1.4 million.

In October, Prince brought a proposal to the City Commission to put a city emergency medical services vehicle and crew in the area, possibly at a rented apartment, to respond to medical calls in the city and unincorporated county. He estimated that would turn the tables financially and result in the county paying the city about $568,000 annually.

City commissioners held off on moving ahead to discuss the issue with the County Commission. They had an initial talk at a December joint meeting but the future operation of Station 19 remains an unresolved issue.

Prince said he intends to put the nine new firefighters at a city station, not at a temporary location such as an apartment.

On Jan. 16, the City Commission voted to accept the grant 5-2, with Lauren Poe and Randy Wells in dissent. At that meeting, Poe discussed allowing staff to finish an ongoing cost-benefit analysis of accepting the grant and voting whether to accept it at a February meeting.

At that January meeting, Mayor Ed Braddy said that nine city firefighters in the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) are slated to retire in about two years and the initially grant-funded positions could fill those vacancies.

The city previously used SAFER grant funding to hire 13 firefighters and staff Station No. 8, which opened in 2011 on Northwest 42nd Avenue.

Prince said he expects to use the new grant to begin hiring firefighters in March.

Christopher Curry is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.

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