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Homeland Security grants will help Hagerstown hire 9 more firefighters

April 04, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN - The Hagerstown City Council's budget discussions could go a little easier over the next few months thanks to two grants -- totaling almost $1 million -- that the city will receive from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said Thursday one grant is for $948,825 and will help pay the salary and benefits of nine firefighters the city plans to hire next month.

The second grant will provide $39,150 for the city to initiate a public fire safety education initiative that will distribute free smoke detectors to landlords, he said.

The money will be disbursed by the federal government over a four-year period, Hawbaker said. As a condition of the grants, the fire department cannot release any of its staff over the next five years or it risks losing the money.

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"Any time you get $1 million over a four-year period from the government is a surprise," Hawbaker said. "Overall, it helps the city's budget."

Hawbaker said $341,550 of the larger grant will be disbursed in the first year, $303,570 in the second, $189,720 in the third and $113,985 in the fourth.

In addition to giving Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and the members of council a financial cushion during budget discussions, the grant will allow the fire department to staff each fire engine with at least two firefighters, Hawbaker said. As it stands, each shift has two engines that are staffed with only one firefighter.

Earlier this year, the council voted 4-1 to hire nine firefighters after a lengthy debate that focused on whether the city would be able to afford the extra employees.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner and Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh -- the two council members who were the most adamant about hiring the firefighters -- said they were elated after hearing the city had received the grants.

"Next year's budget should look pretty good," Nigh said. "I'm glad to see someone has answered our prayers. Maybe there's hope."

Metzner said the grants show that the federal government agreed Hagerstown needed the firefighters.

"It's just great news," Metzner said. "It means nothing but good things during budget discussions."

The grants were secured thanks to the efforts of U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, both D-Md., and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.

Earlier this year, the Hagerstown Fire Department was awarded a $314,190 grant from the Department of Homeland Security to install diesel exhaust systems in seven fire stations and to acquire 65 portable radios, according to information from Mikulski's office. The city also received $200,628 in 2005 to buy Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus equipment and new hoses.

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