The recruitment efforts of Elkin Fire Department just received a $485,726 boost this week, thanks to a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant awarded to the department by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Capt. Theresa Knops with EFD made the announcement at Monday’s Elkin Board of Commissioners meeting, and asked for the board’s blessing to accept the grant and for other action related to the grant. For months, the commissioners and town officials have been wrestling with ways to tackle the town fire department’s low volunteer numbers.
Notice of the grant acceptance came Aug. 26 to the fire department. The grant is for four years and requires no match in funds from the town, and there is no requirement to continue funding once the grant period has ended, Knops explained.
The grant period will be Nov. 20 of this year through Nov. 19, 2020, and it includes funding to hire a full-time employee with salary and benefits of $58,091 per year to coordinate the grant and recruitment efforts, as well as recruitment of an additional 20 volunteer firefighters with funding of $4,425 per firefighter per year, including funding for personal protective equipment such as helmets, coats, pants and boots, uniforms, physical exams and more.
Other funding in the grant will allow for implementation of a tuition and mileage reimbursement program for those personnel needing to travel to gain certification and education for the positions in the amount of $10,000 per year, as well as the development of an Explorer program in the final years of the grant period which would be designed to build interest among local youth for fire service, with funding for that program at $2,925 per Explorer for 10 youth and includes gear and uniforms.
The final funding amounts will be used to market the desire for new volunteers through social media advertising, website retargeting, radio advertising, television advertising, printed recruitment materials and improvements to the EFD website.
The department’s original request in the grant application was for $570,566, but it was awarded at $485,726, Knops explained.
The commissioners unanimously approved acceptance of the FEMA SAFER grant Monday. In addition, the board unanimously approved adjusting the town budget to accept the funds and authorizing the development of the new full-time position to coordinate the grant and recruitment project.
“With such an extensive level of financial support from FEMA, we feel we can make great headway towards keeping our current firefighters invested in the fire department as well as growing our organization to meet current and future needs,” said Chief Mike Morton. He recognized Knops and Assistant Chief Don Mitchell for their work in developing the grant proposal.
Nearly 70 percent of America’s firefighters are volunteers, reported Knops in a press release Tuesday morning. Nationally, volunteers save communities an estimated $140.7 billion a year. Communities such as Elkin relay on volunteer firefighters as an effective and cost-efficient means of keeping their citizens and visitors safe, she continued. However, the number of volunteer firefighters has declined by over 18 percent nationwide in the past several decades while the number of incidents to which they respond has increased. At the same time, the average age of the volunteer fire service is increasing.
The SAFER program provides funding to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase or maintain the number of trained, front-line firefighters available in their communities, explained the press release. The goal of SAFER is to enhance the abilities of local fire departments to comply with staffing, response and operational standards so that communities are protected from fire and fire-related hazards.
“When emergencies happen, whether they are fires, accident, injuries, or illness, our most important factors in dealing with those emergencies are time and people,” Morton said. “The likelihood that we can make a difference increases dramatically when we have enough trained people present to do all that needs to be done, and when we can complete those tasks in a quick and efficient manner.”
In addition to the SAFER grant program, the Elkin Fire Department officials also asked the town board for permission to move forward with pursuing the addition of Elkin to Surry County’s automatic aid agreement, which would allow Elkin to assist departments outside the town limits and those outside to assist Elkin automatically without having to verbally request assistance for reported structure fires or fire alarms.
A similar agreement was approved by the town board 10 months ago between Elkin and Arlington fire departments, and Morton reported during that time Arlington, which is located in Jonesville, has responded to assist Elkin in 37 incidents, while Elkin has assisted Arlington on eight occasions.
The Surry County agreement would automatically provide mutual aid in a number of layers, with the most immediate fire departments dispatched first, and others being called as the need expanded during an incident, Morton said.
The Elkin commissioners unanimously agreed to allow Elkin officials to further pursue being added to the county’s automatic aid agreement, which will require formal acceptance by county and town officials before it is finalized.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.