Grant preserves threatened firefighter positions in Chambersburg

June 27, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Chambersburg Borough Council President William McLaughlin
File photo

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — A $1.6 million federal grant announced Wednesday will save eight firefighters’ jobs for the next two years in the Borough of Chambersburg, according to municipal officials.

The borough was awarded a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said in a news release.

Chambersburg Borough Council President William McLaughlin said he experienced “a sense of relief” when he heard the news.

McLaughlin held an afternoon news conference to thank Emergency Services Chief William FitzGerald, elected officials and borough staff members for their work on the grant application. He said FitzGerald first learned of the SAFER program and led efforts to submit an application in February.

The grant will be used to preserve eight firefighting jobs that had been targeted for layoffs at the beginning of the new fiscal year on Sunday due to budget constraints.

“To use a bad metaphor, (the grant) puts out a fire. These are things we do not do lightly,” McLaughlin said.

The municipality employs 21 paid firefighters.

McLaughlin said the grant being approved “validates that there are significant fiscal problems” in the borough. He said a transition team will decide what to do when the funding expires.

“The SAFER grant is not a panacea,” he said. “We hope the national and local economies improve in the next two years.”

A Shuster spokeswoman read a statement on the congressman’s behalf during the news conference. In it, he called the grant award “crucial funds.”

“These brave first responders are the true heroes of our community,” Shuster said in the statement.

“These (awards) don’t happen by accident. ... This is a significant coup for the borough,” Franklin County (Pa.) Commissioner Bob Thomas said.

Borough Manager Jeffrey Stonehill said the grant amount reflects salaries and benefits for the eight positions.

“We submitted actual numbers,” he said.

The grant contract has not been received, Stonehill said.

“We’ve got good people throughout our fire department,” McLaughlin said. “It’s never been a question of quality. The only problems we have are financial.”

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