Aberdeen, South Dakota Hopes to Add Firefighters

With a little luck and the help of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Aberdeen Fire and Rescue may be getting more firefighters.

Fire Chief Bill Winter and Shift Commander Kevin VanMeter met this week with the city commission to discuss an application for 2005 grant funds from Homeland Security's Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant program.

If the city is selected for the Homeland Security SAFER grant, Winter said the department would like to hire six additional personnel - two per shift.

Cost to city: The grant would only partially and temporarily cover the firefighters' salaries, and the city would eventually have to pick up that expense, which would top $230,000 annually.

The city commission was agreeable to the idea of additional help at the fire department, and granted permission to seek grant funding.

Currently, VanMeter said, the fire department is just approaching what it considers full staffing with 14 people per shift.

However, those numbers can be deceiving as at least two per shift are new people who are not quite ready to be sent out on calls, VanMeter said.

"So we're really at 12 per shift now," he said, adding that it can take several months to get a new hire up to speed. "That and with vacations and sick time, we're almost always missing a person or two."

Compliance with standard: Also, VanMeter said the fire department is trying to get as close to compliance as possible with the National Fire Protection Association 1710 standard on department deployment and operations.

That standard, while not law in South Dakota, provides guidelines for adequate staffing to effectively protect lives and property.

VanMeter said the standard calls for 15 fire department personnel on the scene of a fire, and currently Aberdeen Fire and Rescue is closer to 11 or 12.

With at least one ambulance crew constantly out on the road, and one firefighter per shift stationed at the airport, VanMeter said the department would like to increase its numbers to be able to adequately and safely respond to any incident in the city.

The Homeland Security grant would require a matching amount from the city to cover the salaries of the new firefighters.

Those amounts are as follows:

Year One - 10 percent from the city.

Year Two - 20 percent.

Year Three - 50 percent.

Year Four - 70 percent.

Year Five - 100 percent.

VanMeter said the gradual increases would give the city time to increase the fire department's budget each year to cover for the additional firefighters.

Currently, the average firefighter salary is $38,583 including health and retirement benefits.

While unsure of when the city's grant application will be decided upon by Homeland Security, VanMeter said past experience tells him that the fire department may hear back within six months.

Should Aberdeen be approved for the funding, VanMeter said the department would likely begin hiring new firefighters after Jan. 1.

Distributed by the Associated Press