SAFER Grant Saves 46 Orlando Jobs

Thanks to a SAFER grant awarded to Orlando today, 46 firefighters who have been threatened with layoffs for close to a year can continue their jobs with those worries behind them, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The department was the only grant recipient in the fourth round of SAFER, as FEMA awarded it $8.3 million to pay for staffing. Without the grant, the city had planned to close eight ambulances, a ladder truck and their crews, which included cutting the 46 positions, according to the report.

While Orlando was successful in the end, it took a long time for them to get there. When the city was close making the cuts final in October, news surfaced that the SAFER program was revamped to include rehires. That's when the city decided to apply for the grant.

Since the department had to wait for approval, Local 1365 agreed to give up raises and other benefits to save enough money to delay the layoffs until February. When that date came and went, Mayor Buddy Dyer decided to spend an estimated $300,000 a month in reserves to carry the firefighters' salaries until a decision was made on the grant.

When FEMA finally gave them an answer, it wasn't what officials wanted to hear. The agency ruled that while the grant would help the department, it was not eligible under the new rules because the firefighters had not been laid off.

Lawmakers began lobbying FEMA to reconsider and in the end, their efforts paid off.

"We've been working it very hard," Dyer told the newspaper, noting that he believed the city would receive the grant the whole time.

Congressman Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) was among the lawmakers who supported the city's effort, according to the report.

"Our hard work paid off. This is a perfect use of federal grant dollars," he said. "The money will preserve highly-skilled local jobs, bring more federal money in to the district, and help keep the public safe."

The $8.3 million grant is the largest given out of the 61 agencies awarded so far as part of the FY2009 awards.

"Their jobs were threatened for a year. It's a huge relief," Steve Clelland, president president of Local 1365 who spoke with earlier this year, told the newspaper. "Those guys were gone if that grant didn't come in. I can't express how close we came to losing these people."