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Another $35 Million in SAFER Grants Released

February 22, 2011 – Scores of laid-off fire fighters will return to work, and many more will be hired after another $35 million in Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant awards was announced February 18 for a total of more than $196 million in Fiscal Year 2010.

IAFF affiliates benefiting from the recent round of grants: United Yuma Fire Fighters, AZ Local 1234 (San Luis Fire Department); Contra Costa County, CA Local 1230; Crest Forest, CA Local 4105; Citrus County, FL Local 4562; Southwest Florida Local 1826 (Bayshore and Tice); Deerfield Beach , FL Local 1673; Atlanta, GA Local 134; Elgin, IL Local 439; Westfield, IN Local 4416; Greenfield, MA Local 2548; Quincy, MA Local 792; Cumberland, MD Local 1715; Dearborn Heights, MI Local 1355; Findlay, OH Local 381; Tualatin Valley, OR Local 1660; and Weatherford, TX Local 3823.

 “The [IAFF] worked hard to lobby commissioners to apply for these grants,” says Southwest Florida Local 1826 President Walt Stevens. “We could not have done it without the help of IAFF 12th District Vice President Larry Osborne and the IAFF. They are always ready to give us what we need.”

In a previous round, Yonkers, NY Local 628 fire fighters got the news they would be receiving $4.8 million in SAFER funding.

“This was indeed welcome news,” says Local 628 President Barry McGoey. “This money allowed us to bring back 16 laid-off fire fighters.”

McGoey adds, “In addition to bringing back fire fighters, the money is also affording the City the ability to re-promote 10 demoted officers.”

Because of declining funds, the City of Yonkers laid off the 16 in July 2010. Since there is a minimum staffing clause in Local 628’s contract, the City covered positions using overtime.

Anxious to get fire fighters back on the job, Local 628 worked with the IAFF to submit a SAFER grant application, lobbied all congressional and local leaders and asked their friends in positions of influence to write letters of support to the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of Local 628 members.

Once the grant was awarded, the City was just as ready as Local 628 to get fire fighters back on the job. The City applied to waive the 30-day waiting period and put the 16 fire fighters back to work immediately..

Unfortunately, not ever municipality is happy to receive SAFER grant dollars. The City of Canandaigua, New York, has received SAFER grant money three times, but the City turned it down the first two times.

For more than two years, the City has been working get rid of the professional fire fighters in favor of an all volunteer department. In October of that year, immediately after Canandaigua fire fighters finished contract negotiations, the City announced without warning that it was going to lay off 60 percent of the fire department.

Canandaigua Local 2098 took its case to the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) on the grounds that the professional fire fighters had exclusive rights to the job (the Canandaigua Fire Department has been a professional fire department since 1913). The board ruled in favor of Local 2098, stating they indeed had exclusive rights because the volunteer fire fighters had never used the fire apparatus. Therefore, it was ruled that the fire fighters be returned to the job.

Because of the PERB case, the City is, at least temporarily, forced to accept this SAFER grant. However, the City has appealed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to accept funding for three fire fighters instead of five.

“This has been a very frustrating experience,” says Local 2098 President Jay Boock, who is among the laid-off fire fighters. “Clearly, the City is going to do everything it can to get rid of us. But, we’re not going anywhere.”

Meanwhile, the IAFF has had two victories with regard to SAFER grants and Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE Act) grants. Under H.R. 1, legislation to continue funding the federal government, the SAFER grant program would have been completely eliminated, and FIRE Act grants would have been cut by more than 20 percent.

Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) offered an amendment to restore funding for the two programs. The amendment passed February 16 with a large bipartisan majority.

Two days later, the U.S. Representative David Price (D-NC) proposed another amendment to H.R. 1 to extend the SAFER waivers, which allow fire departments to use grant funds to rehire or retain personnel. The amendment passed by a vote of 267-159.

Next, the Senate will move to consider the bill. The IAFF will continue lobbying on behalf of SAFER and FIRE Act grants as the process continues.

 


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