Council Divided On When To Hire New Firefighters

The Smithfield Fire Department has been awarded three new full-time firefighter positions through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Personnel, better known as the SAFER grant.

Fire Chief John Blanton applied for the three positions in January 2017 after receiving approval from town leaders.

The grant is for a three year period, with federal funds paying 75 percent of the salary and costs for the first 2 years and 35 percent of the funding for the third and final year.

The grant does not provide funding for turnout gear which will cost $3,500 per firefighter or a total of $10,500.

The cost to the town is $43,256.25 the first year, which includes $10,500 for their gear, $32,756.25 the second year and $85,166.25 the third year.   Blanton said Town will save $242,396.25 over the 3 year period by having been awarded the grant.

“The additional personnel are important to the Fire Department’s increased call volume and the need of the professional delivery of our service and safety to our citizens of the Town,” Chief Blanton stated.

The grant was originally set to begin in January 2018 but the Town of Smithfield agreed to pay $3,500 per month for 3 months to hire the three new firefighters in October 2017, the same month the West Smithfield Fire Station opens.

It would increase staffing to 5 full time firefighters per shift. Three paid firefighters will staff the Fire Station # 1 on South Fourth Street and two will staff Fire Station #2 in West Smithfield.

The fire department added 3 positions in July 2016.

The Council voted 5-to-1 to hire the firefighters in October instead of January. Mayor Pro Tem Emery Ashley voted against the request saying in part the added cost of $3,500 per month for 3 months was not included in the current fiscal year budget.  Photo by John Payne