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Feds won’t pay for more firefighters

Two neighboring West Hudson communities have been shut out in their bids to snag federal funding to hire more firefighters.

Kearny Fire Dept. and Harrison Fire Dept. each applied for a share of SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) grants but each was turned down.

For Kearny, it was the third rejection in as many years; for Harrison, the second knockdown.

Kearny had applied for $1,974,525 to pay 15 new firefighters’ wages and benefits for two years; Harrison had sought $6 million to subsidize 36 new firefighters for two years.

In a denial letter sent to Kearny Fire Dept., SAFER overseers said, “In fiscal year 2013, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) received over 1,500 SAFER applications requesting more than $1.67 billion in federal assistance. The large number applications received and the finite amount of available funding resulted in many worthy applicants not being funded and underscores the highly competitive nature of this program.”

The letter said that each application is evaluated and rated on the basis of four review categories: “clarity of the project description, demonstration of financial need, impact on daily operations and realization of cost benefit.”

No specific explanation was provided, to either Kearny or Harrison, as to why their applications were denied.

Kearny Fire Chief Steven Dyl said that the premise of his application was to bring the total number of personnel up to a “full T.O.(Table of Organization) to 102.”

Now, Dyl said, “I guess it’s back to the drawing board. It’s frustrating. We had a set plan for what we intended to do.”

Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos, who has acknowledged that both the Police and Fire Departments are working under shorthanded conditions, said that going forward “will be a challenge. I expect that if we are successful in getting transitional aid, this is one issue we’re going to look at.”

In Harrison, Fire Director Harold Stahl said the town would, at some point, file a new application.

“The year before [FEMA] told us we didn’t ask for enough,” Stahl said. “So, this time around, I thought we were in line to get funded.”

With current staffing of 29, getting the additional 36 requested positions filled “would have brought us up to the T.O. of many years ago,” Stahl said.

For now, he said, “we’re still alive and well.”

And, on April 9, the town’s governing body voted to authorize the purchase of two 2014 4-Wheel-Drive Ford Expedition SSVs (Special Service Vehicles) from Breyer Ford of Morristown for a total of $74,603 under a 3-year lease/ purchase arranged through the Cranford Police Cooperative Pricing System.

Stahl said the vehicles would be replacements for two 18-year-old jeeps and would be “large enough to move men and equipment, particularly when we have recalls of off-duty men in multi-alarm fires.”

“We expect to take delivery sometime in May,” he added.

– Ron Leir

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