The City of Willard is going to apply for a SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) Grant in order to pay for additional EMTs and firefighters. According to city officials there is a dire need to find people who will serve in those positions.

The purpose of the SAFER Grant is to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter organizations to help with increasing the number of firefighters to help communities meet the following:

• Industry minimum standards;

• 24-hour staffing to provide adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards, and

• Fulfill traditional missions of fire departments.

The grant is separated into two main goals including hiring firefighters and recruitment and retention.

Willard Fire Chief Joe Reiderman presented council members with a 1996 roster at a council work session. At that time, there were 46 members on the department.

“Three were full-time,” he pointed out. “And everybody else was part-time. Almost half of them had at least one family member that they were related to serving on the department.”

With the current roster of 40 members, Reiderman said there are no firefighters/EMTs who have a family member serving with them on the department, with the exception of one.

One-half of the people on the roster actually live outside the coverage area for Willard fire & Rescue, Reiderman noted. It is an even 20/20 split.

“That is a big, big thing to keep in mind as we go forward,” he told council members. “The top seven part-timers have an average age of 40 years (service). There are three firefighters with over 50 years.”

As they age, firefighters and EMTs will be leaving. Reiderman said the trend shows that all part-times, with the exception of one, live outside the fire district.

Residency requirements changed in 2009, he pointed out. No one, including the fire chief has to live inside the city or the four surrounding townships as a result. Future staffing was in question.

In 2015, Reiderman said then city manager Shawn Tappel recognized the fire department was understaffed. He also talked about the lack of volunteers.

“He talked about problems in the future once again,” Reiderman said. ““Here we have that word future again in 2015.”

Tappel also recognized the burn out for full-time firefighters. They were working over-time and covering due to a lack of part-time people.

Reiderman referred to a five-year plan issued in 1996. It called for several new firefighters to keep staffing at safe levels.

“The problem with that is we are a quarter of a century later,” he noted, “we still haven’t met that goal.”

The SAFER Grant would be a giant step into bringing numbers to an acceptable level within the fire department. The $1.5 million being requested would cover three years.

Reiderman said the city is looking at hiring five additional full-time members to put the department at four full-time people per shift. That would make 12 full-time employees plus Reiderman. This meets the requirements for a first out engine.

“In a nutshell,” Reiderman pointed out, “it helps communities hire firefighters. It’s based on NFPA (National Fire Prevention Association) standards. The SAFER Grant is all based on fire. All they want to know is can we put four people in a responding fire engine.”

Reiderman said the grant does not deal with the EMT side of the department but does recognize that many fire departments provide EMS services. The grant is, however, used to fulfill the traditional missions of firefighters.

By having enough firefighters on each shift, Reiderman said there would be a reduction in overtime.

The first three years would be the “easy” part, he noted, when it comes to cost savings. Part-time EMS wages could be reduced by $64,000 a year and the part-time fire wage by $20,000 per year. Additional reductions would be seen in the reduction of spending for part-time gear, training and benefits.

“We spent about $62,000 in overtime last year,” Reiderman pointed out. “A lot of that was because guys had to come in and cover because of COVID.

“Over three years, we are looking at about $342,000,” he said. “If we put in for the grant, they pay 100%. We save $114,000 a year over the three-year period.”

Reiderman said the city can reapply after the three years and seek an additional three years of grant money if it is allowed. The city needs to have a good plan in place.

“We have got to move forward with our program,” Reiderman told members of council and other city officials. “We’re just getting killed with membership. It’s a turnover that really scares me.

“You have not seen me up here before,” he said. “If I am here, it’s a problem.”

With the filing deadline of Friday, March 12, council consensus gave Reiderman the go ahead to file the grant application. The announcement of those departments who will receive the grant will be this spring and on a continuous basis until all available funds have been awarded. No grants will be rewarded after Sept. 30.

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