The Tulsa Fire Department will soon begin hiring 60 new fire fighters to replenish ranks overburdened in recent years by a combination of large-scale natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic and steady attrition.

Tulsa Local 176, working hand in hand with the IAFF, as well as key state and federal lawmakers, secured a $12 million Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant. SAFER grants, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), are designed to help fire departments maintain staffing levels.

Tulsa Local 176 President Matt Lay says the City of Tulsa expects to begin hiring the first of 60 new fire fighters in January 2022. In the past 18 months, the Tulsa Fire Department has lost approximately 70 fire fighters – mostly due to early and scheduled retirements.

Lay says the historic flooding of 2019 across Oklahoma, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic, has taken a heavy toll on fire fighters. Many are burned out amidst a hiring freeze during the pandemic that required many to work numerous overtime hours.

Tulsa fire fighters are often working double shifts almost every week just to keep stations open and trucks on the streets. Those extra shifts, coupled with fire fighters either sickened or quarantined with COVID-19, have sent many into retirement.

Lay says it’s important to educate city leaders and use all resources when applying for these grants. Key to this grant award was the support of the IAFF and 19-year Local 176 member Justin Banks.

“Like so many of our fire fighters, Banks is doing double and triple-duty to ensure that our members have the staffing and resources we need to do the job safely and serve our citizens each and every day,” Lay says.

Lawmakers at the federal level also provided support for the grant, making sure Tulsa’s fire stations were fully operational.

“The Tulsa Fire Department’s crucial role in public safety cannot be understated, and I was proud to lend my support for this grant,” says U.S. Representative Kevin Hern (R-OK).

U.S. Senator James Lankford (R-OK) also weighed in. “Our fire fighters and first responders in Tulsa and around the nation are our first line of defense for security, natural disasters and any other emergencies facing our communities. We need to be certain they are ready to face those challenges.”