Steamboat Fire Rescue seeks federal grant to hire more firefighters

Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue firefighters put out a backyard chicken coop fire in late 2020. (Photo by Dylan Anderson)
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs City Council gave the green light Tuesday for Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Chuck Cerasoli to apply for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to hire four new firefighters, who will also work as emergency medical technicians.

“It really works to see that the increased staffing will comply with local fire department standards,” Cerasoli told council. “The addition of those firefighters will help us reduce having to go to a seven-person staffing level.”

The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Responses grant, or SAFER, will cover full salary and benefits for the first three years of employment for each of the four new employees.

The city should expect to pay ongoing personnel costs starting at $89,300 per firefighter — or $357,200 for all four — after the grant funding runs out, according to Cerasoli.

Not covered by the grant are any added operating costs associated with the additional personnel. Cerasoli estimated the city would have to pay $136,000 for the new firefighters in the first year and $60,000 in subsequent years.

“There are so many different ways to approach how we bring these people on board, but we will make work whatever we can get,” Cerasoli said.

Winnie DelliQuadri, city special projects and intergovernmental services manager, who will write the grant, said now is an ideal time to apply as the federal government is not asking local municipalities to match funding due to COVID-19.

“This is a three-year grant, and normally, it has matching funds that escalate in years two and three,” DelliQuadi said. “The fact that there is no matching funds for the three-year period is a pretty substantial savings for years two and three.”

The grant would help meet the fire department’s staffing goal of 12 firefighters per shift, evenly split between the downtown and mountain fire stations.

Even if the department does not receive the grant, council members unanimously agreed funding the additional positions was important.

“We’ll need to look at things again if we don’t get our full request, but if we don’t, it’s probably time for us to start adding some of those positions through other means,” City Council President Jason Lacy said.

Council has been operating on a tight budget since the COVID-19 pandemic, but other council members were hopeful if they do not receive the grant, the city would be in a better financial place by the end of 2021 to hire the firefighters with city money.

“As far as what we do in the future, if we don’t (get) the grant, I think this should come back to council at that time,” council member Kathi Meyer said. “If we won’t know until may or September or later, we may be in a much stronger position financially to do even more.”

While the department will be asking to fund four firefighters, Cerasoli said FEMA could afford funding for two, which would still be helpful.

“If we apply for four and we get two, we’d have a discussion on what council is leaning towards,” Cerasoli said.

The city is expected to hear back on the status of its grant by September.

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