by BRENNAN REGO
A $509,454 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency has enabled the Ketchum Fire Department to hire three more full-time firefighters for at least the next two years.
The grant was funded by the agency’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, foundation, which provides funds to fire departments across the nation for hiring and recruitment purposes.
Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle said the department will use the money to hire three former paid on-call firefighters full-time: firefighter-engineer/advanced EMT Greg Martin, squad leader/advanced EMT Mike Witthar and squad leader/paramedic Keith Potter. Martin has been with the department for five years, Witthar for seven and Potter for 12.
“We first narrowed it down to six candidates, and chose the final three from those six,” Elle said. “I really wish I could have hired them all.”
Elle said the department has been shorter on staff than he would like since the recession hit in 2008. A recent Fire Department news release states that before the new positions were funded, the department had eight full-time firefighters and 35 paid on-call firefighters.
“The grant application outlined the economic crisis our area was in and the staff reductions undertaken citywide,” Elle said. “In addition, the Ketchum Fire Department has been working toward meeting some minimum emergency staffing standards recommended by the National Fire Protection Association for quite some time.”
Elle said the additional staffing will give the current full-time firefighters time to catch up on projects such as fire prevention activities and public education. He said it will also allow them to spend more time training with the paid on-call firefighters on low-frequency, high-risk emergency calls such as hazardous materials calls and technical rescue calls.
The grant application was written by Lt. Lara McLean, who has successfully brought in about $1.1 million in grants over the past five years for the Ketchum and other local fire departments, Elle said.
“I’m extremely proud of Lt. McLean for her grant-writing skills and I commend her for helping us work toward greater firefighter safety in our fire department and throughout our region,” he said.
According to Elle, the Ketchum Fire Department was awarded the grant because the city has a lot of high-value property and because its citizens and visitors have a high expectation for top-quality emergency services, given the property tax base.
“Our county is also known for its high-profile visitors and residents along with conferences and events that make us a high risk for terrorism,” Elle said.
Brennan Rego: firstname.lastname@example.org
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