Steamboat City Council initially split over using general fund or having Steamboat Fire Rescue seek grant to add staff
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs City Council during its regular meeting Tuesday deliberated whether the city would make Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue apply for a grant to add more employees or fund it using the city’s coffers.
It was a question if the department would receive the grant and how long that could take.
The SAFER Grant, awarded by the state of Colorado, would cover the addition of eight firefighters and two floaters. There would then be a total of 12 firefighters on each shift with two back-up firefighters.
“I don’t want to be having a heart attack when I’m the third or fourth call,” Council member Michael Buccino said.
Buccino supported the city using its general fund to immediately provide funds for the department to make the hires.
If the SAFER grant was awarded, Steamboat would still have to provide about an additional $150,000 to cover operational costs for the crews such as for gear.
While all council members supported adding staff to the department, some joined Buccino in using the general fund opposed to having to wait until January to apply for the grant and until August for an approval or denial.
Buccino said the high number of simultaneous calls is his motivator to pushing for more firefighters to be hired right away using money from the city’s general fund or the tax recently passed for a new fire station, rather than waiting for the grant.
Other council members felt spending money from the tax would be inappropriate as that was specifically earmarked for a new downtown station.
“I’m a little protective, and I want to make sure that the tax money is used in a way that the voters intended,” Council member Kathi Meyer said.
According to Meyer, there has been a low volume of emergency calls, which she believes does not justify immediate funding for the department, particularly using the tax.
“For me, to use that money to leverage with the SAFER grant made perfect sense,” she said. “I think we’re taking good care of the community now.”
During the peak of COVID-19 in the spring, the department cut costs for gear, eliminated two floater positions, eliminated three firefighters and emergency medical technicians and cut part-time firefighters.
“One of the biggest challenges we have is that those floater positions were put in place to try to help us with our back fill needs,” said Steamboat Fire Chief Chuck Cerasoli, adding the grant would help fill that need.
In addition to responding to emergency calls, firefighters are also tasked with providing public education, fire prevention training and often adminitering CPR classes. Cerasoli said that puts a strain on the department as firefighters are logging frequent overtime, and the department is shorthanded if firefighters are gone for a day.
“A lot of things cause overtime, the overtime climbs and climbs, and we have to start reducing other things we do to keep our core service available,” Cerasoli said. “If we ended up in a situation where we’ve already run into our overtime budget, we might have to start reducing staffing levels.”
Ultimately, the council decided to move forward with applying for the SAFER grant and would provide the additional funds required for operational costs if the grant is approved.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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