$422,140 grant to fund salaries for four new Clallam firefighters
Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Clallam County Fire District No. 2 Chief Sam Phillips, third from left, describes how a $422,140 grant from FEMA will fund firefighter positions as, from left, district Commissioner Richard Rudd, Assistant Chief Mike DeRousie and Commissioner Dave Whitney listen Wednesday in Port Angeles.
By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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“This is a first for Clallam County Fire District No. 2,” Phillips said.
The full-time firefighters will improve response times and provide better coverage on weekdays, when most volunteers are working day jobs.
“It's a very big deal for the community,” Phillips said after a Wednesday news conference in Port Angeles.
“We survive on less than three-fourths of a million-dollar tax base. This is more than half of that.”
Fire District No. 2 has 36 volunteer firefighters and two paid staff: Phillips and board secretary and office manager Joan Noal.
The 69-year-old district covers 85 square miles of unincorporated area from Lake Sutherland on the west to Deer Park on the east to Olympic National Park on the south.
It shares resources with the Port Angeles Fire Department and responds to emergency calls in the park.
“We have survived this long because we have tremendous community support,” Phillips said.
“Now it is time to accept federal support in the hiring of full-time firefighters to protect and serve our citizens when our volunteers are often not available.”
The new firefighters will begin working Sept. 22.
Two will work at the Baker Street station in Gales Addition just east of Port Angeles, and the other pair will work at the Dry Creek station just west of the city.
Phillips said the immediate goal is to backfill those stations with volunteers. The long-term goal is to have 24-hour staff.
The new hires will be responsible for mapping and planning in addition to their duties in the field.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency's Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant was created to help fire departments increase the number of trained frontline firefighters available.
The grant helps fire districts comply with staffing, response and operational standards established by the National Fire Protection Association and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Phillips said the impact “will be very significant on reducing loss of life and property from fire and other hazards.”
The SAFER grant is “designed for small communities that are economically challenged and really have the need,” he added.
The four new positions will be advertised statewide.
“It will be a competitive process,” Phillips said.
All four will be trained and certified firefighters and paramedics.
There is no shortage of firefighters in the state because of layoffs resulting from the economic downturn, Phillips said.
The grant will enable Fire District No. 2 to fill the four firefighter/paramedic positions for up to two years.
“Obviously, we can't live on this, but it gives us breathing room,” Phillips said.
The new hires will work Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., when only a few volunteers are available.
Phillips said the extra staffing will enhance the safety of his personnel and the public by providing a faster initial response.
'Reduce time, 'improve fireground safety'
“This grant will enable Clallam County Fire District No. 2 to reduce response times and improve fireground safety and effectiveness,” Phillips said in a statement.
“We are an all-volunteer organization, and we will always be in need of additional volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
“In fact, we currently have openings and are accepting applications for volunteers.”
Ideally, the district would like to have 60 volunteers.
“What this grant does is provide the district with some breathing room to serve the public while we adjust and plan out our long-term staffing strategies,” Phillips said.
The district's volunteer roster has dwindled 39 percent since 2009, while calls for service have increased by 15 percent, to about 1,200 per year.
Clallam County Fire District No. 2 closed the Lake Sutherland station in 2011 because of a lack of volunteers.
The district needs 15 to 20 resident volunteers to reopen the station, Phillips said.
Anyone interested in volunteering can download an application at www.clallamfire2.org or obtain a copy at the district headquarters, 102 E. Fifth St., Port Angeles.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: July 11. 2012 5:54PM