Federal money sought to upgrade Fire Department

By JOHN BOZZO
Staff Writer

Last update: July 08, 2005

DAYTONA BEACH -- Hoping to jump-start expansion of a Fire Department stretched thin in a growing city, commissioners cast their eyes to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for money to hire 12 new firefighters.
Federal dollars would pay most of the early expenses in a grant application approved unanimously Wednesday by the City Commission, with the city on the hook for the full cost after four years.

City Manager Jim Chisholm said the city should be able to pick up the annual costs for the new firefighters after four years -- $594,073 for salaries and benefits -- with taxes and fees from the expected growth in new construction.

Federal grant money would pay $1.19 million during the first four years with the city paying $1.46 million, including all the costs in the fifth year. The city's cost the first year would be $47,056.

The new hires also would help the city prepare to staff a planned new station on LPGA Boulevard west of Interstate 95, where new home construction is expected to boom.

Rick Shiver, a retired firefighter and city commissioner, said it's vital the new firefighter positions continue after the grant expires.

"We have a lot of growth going on out in the LPGA area," he said.

Commissioner Dwayne Taylor, another former firefighter, said the department was stretched thin.

"For us to hire an additional 12 firefighters puts us in a position to be able to handle the growth our city's going to have over the next five or 10 years," he said.

If the grant is approved, Fire Chief Larry Taft said the new firefighters would first be assigned to existing fire engines. Currently, fire crews must often wait for more firefighters to arrive before starting to fight fires. The state's 2-in, 2-out rule requires four firefighters on scene before aggressive fire suppression action can begin. Most of the city's fire engines are staffed with less than four firefighters.

Taft told commissioners the Fire Department answers more than 15,000 emergency calls a year with a daily staffing level unchanged from a decade ago when calls averaged 9,000 a year. The department has 99 firefighters with 25 on duty citywide at any one time.

City officials are working out details to build the new station with MSKP Volusia Partners, a home builder with plans to build more than 700 homes in the LPGA. The company has agreed to donate land for the station and might also help pay the estimated $1.5 million construction cost, possibly in exchange for credits on impact fees. Construction of the new station is expected within about two years.

john.bozzo@news-jrnl.com