County receives $8 million grant that will add paid fire staff to stations, including Hancock

Washington County will be able to add 33 paid firefighters to stations around the county over the next three years with federal funds announced last week.

The Washington County Board of County Commissioners said the Division of Emergency Services has been awarded a SAFER grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the amount of $8,080,776.

“As a recipient of the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (SAFER) program, the funding will aid in reducing response times and enhancing firefighter and public safety throughout Washington County,” county officials said about the grant.

When the new positions are filled, the Division of Emergency Services will staff 53 full-time and 25 part-time operational career firefighters.

County officials were expected yesterday to officially accept the grant on the recommendation of David Hays, Director of Emergency Services for the county.

Under the plan outlined in the grant application, firefighters would be added strategically to four volunteer fire stations to add to volunteer fire response in those areas.

Once all of the staff are added under the grant plan, the Division of Emergency Services would place three full-time firefighters on duty for each 24-hour period, seven days per week, in Clear Spring, Williamsport, Sharpsburg and Leitersburg. One firefighter would be placed in the Hancock station for each 24-hour period, said county emergency officials.

“Although our County remains strong in its dedicated volunteer workforce, we recognize the demand that today’s society places on them. Today’s family, work and social environments have created challenges with balancing the needs of emergency responses, fundraising and administrative duties that are difficult for volunteers. The addition of 33 career firefighters under this Grant represents one of the many steps the Commissioners have taken throughout the years to augment the volunteers’ efforts,” said Board of County Commissioners President Jeffrey A. Cline.

The cost share of the grant that was originally required from the County for the three years of the grant has been waived by FEMA (25% yr. 1, 25% yr. 2 and 65% for yr. 3). Washington County will save more than $3 million with this match requirement removed, said county officials.

The SAFER Grant includes an “initial funding mechanism that will allow the Board of County Commissioners to fast track the hiring initiative,” county officials said.

Emergency management officials with the county had already begun to compile a list of potential hires for these positions.

“We are extremely excited to begin this new journey as we work closely with the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association and its member companies to move this process forward,” stated Washington County Division of Emergency Services Director David R. Hays.

SAFER is a competitive national program through the Department of Homeland Security. It provides funds for hiring, recruiting and retaining front-line and volunteer firefighters to create an overall net increase in the number of trained, certified, and competent firefighting units capably responding to emergencies in their communities.