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Conn. officials push for up to $3M in grant for EMS

Officials in New London hope a SAFER grant will allow them to staff, operate an additional ambulance


New London Fire Department Headquarters.

New London Firefighters, IAFF Local 1522/Facebook

By John Penney
The Day

NEW LONDON, Conn. — With fire officials citing the “desperate” need of getting another ambulance staffed and running, the city will apply for a federal grant that, if approved and accepted, would enable the hiring of several new firefighters ― for a time.

The City Council on Monday authorized Mayor Michael Passero to apply for up to $3 million in Staffing For Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant money administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.

The full grant would cover the cost of hiring eight firefighters for 36 months and decrease the city’s growing reliance on neighboring departments for medical calls, Deputy Chief Mark Waters said.

“Since Oct. 1 of last year, we’ve had mutual aid in the city over 150 times... to get to the whole year, our estimation is over 300 times,” Waters said. “Which in my opinion is unacceptable.”

Waters said new hires funded by the grant money would enable New London firefighters to fully staff a third ambulance and answer many of the calls currently being fielded by neighboring departments.

“In turn, it would also increase the revenues for the city, because currently we’re missing those calls and mutual aid ambulances are getting the billing,” he said.

Fire Chief Thomas Curcio on Thursday said the 16-member department has a fleet of four ambulances, including two reserve rigs used for special duty events. If the grant money is approved and new hires made, a reserve ambulance could be put into full service.

Curcio warned that the council’s authorization does not guarantee receipt of grant money. He said a similar SAFER application submitted last year was not approved.

Passero said while there’s no downside to applying for the federal funds, he’s also not committed to accepting the money, if awarded. He said hiring so many new firefighters would likely lead to ancillary staffing costs not covered by the grant monies.

The long-term strategy of using finite grant money to fund so many new firefighter jobs was questioned by some City Council members this week.

“So, you’re going to seek to hire brand new people with this money, and when the money runs out, you’re going to come to then city and want the city to cover for the shortcomings to pay these positions,” said Councilor Akil Peck .

Waters said it would be up to the city to decide whether to continue funding the positions when the grant money ran out.

“If you listen to the scanner every day, you’ll hear mutual aid coming into the city almost every day,” Waters said.

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