Finally, funding for firefighters


The fourth time was the charm for Kearny’s Bravest. It took a lot of persistence, and maybe some luck, but at long last, the Kearny Fire Department hit the jackpot, finally snagging a coveted federal SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant channeled through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In response to its 2014 application, the KFD was awarded $1,595,844 over two years to fill 12 new firefighter slots vacated by retirements.

The grant is designed to give the town enough cash to pay full salaries and benefits of the recruits for 2016 and 2017, said Fire Chief Steven Dyl.

Under the terms of the grant, it will be up to the town to take over the responsibility of making those payments as it fully absorbs the costs of keeping the dozen newbies on the payroll, Dyl said.

News of the grant award was released by Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-9th District) in a July 29 press release which mentioned that Clifton was also pocketing a SAFER grant of $1.73 million to hire 11 firefighters “lost through attrition.”

“This federal grant couldn’t come at a better time, as communities like Clifton and Kearny continue to feel budget constraints that threaten critical public safety resources,” said Pascrell, a prime sponsor of the SAFER Act and the FIRE (Firefighter Investment Response Enhancement) Act.

“I wrote the SAFER Act to help fire departments like Clifton and Kearny avoid having to face a significantly depleted force that could potentially jeopardize the safety of our communities.”

Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos was quoted in the release as thanking the congressman “for his efforts in ensuring the safety that Kearny residents expect and deserve.”

Since SAFER was enacted in 2005, fire departments in the Garden State have received more than $140 million in competitive grants through the program, according to Pascrell.

In an endorsement letter he sent May 12 in support of Kearny’s 2014 SAFER application, Pascrell said the KFD “is in dire need” of the new personnel to replace retirees.

“The Kearny Fire Department has gone from a full table of organization [strength] of 102 employees, to an all-time low of 83 ….

“With the department call volume increasing nearly 25% from 2013 to 2014, the need for firefighters to combat any risks cannot be overstated. The new firefighters will increase the percentage of their response time with four member engine companies [and] will allow the Fire Department to dramatically regain compliance with the National Fire Protection Association [minimum staffing guidelines].”

In 2007, the KFD was actually awarded multi-year SAFER funding but the town opted out because the federal formula called for the town to pick up an increasing share of the costs each successive of the funding period.

So, after a hiatus, Kearny renewed its SAFER quest, successively, in 2011, 2012 and 2013, getting rejections each time, until breaking through with its 2014 bid.

While the KFD will be asking the state Civil Service to recertify a firefighter appointment list for the newbies, 10 other recently hired firefighters – for whom the town is picking up the full freight – are expected to complete their firefighter and EMT training and get their firehouse assignments by “the middle to end of November,” Dyl said.

For the newest dozen, Dyl said the department will ask the state to certify some 300 Kearny and Newark residents as potential candidates (as required by a federal consent decree) and, from that list, hopefully come up with the 12 needed.

“When all is said and done,” Dyl said, “the hope is to hit 102 [total strength]. The target is to reach our T.O. as a realistic goal. We’re finally in a good position to put a cork in the bottom of the hole of the ship.”

Learn more about the writer ...