The Fort Walton Beach Fire Department recently received notice from FEMA that it has been awarded a SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant. The city applied for the grant in March of this year to help temporarily offset the cost of additional personnel needed to staff a new fire engine scheduled for purchase later this year.
“These funds are coming at a great time as we make needed changes and enhancements to our fire department,” said Fort Walton Beach Fire Chief Ken Perkins. “Response data, industry standards, and the most recent Insurance Services Office inspection indicate an increase in staffing and capabilities are needed for our city to not only meet current demands, but also to prepare the city for future growth.”
The SAFER grant totals $893,994 and will be paid out over three years—$362,430 the first year, $362,430 the second year, and $169,134 the third year. The city’s new fire engine will be purchased using half-cent surtax funds of approximately $531,660. The fire engine must be ordered and built to the department’s specifications, and should take approximately seven to nine months.
Six additional firefighters are required to staff the new engine. The city’s fire services assessment will also be used to fund the city’s portion of the additional personnel and other fire department enhancements.
The city has needed a new fire engine for some time. In 2018, the fire department responded to 4,609 calls, an average of 12 calls per day. Of these calls, 36 percent were for fire, 59 percent were for medical, four percent were for traffic crashes, and less than one percent were for rescues. Ten percent of total calls were to assist fire departments in other districts of Okaloosa County, leaving parts of the city uncovered during these times.
Additionally, 32 percent of the total calls in 2018 took place while other calls were active, spreading the department thin and leaving areas of the city uncovered.
The award of the SAFER grant will also allow the city to delay the newly adopted fire services assessment originally planned to begin on October 1. The fire services assessment will now begin Nov 15 and will be included on the city’s monthly utility bill. More information about the fire services assessment can be found at www.fwb.org/fireassessment.
– Doug Rainer
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