Board seeks grant money to hire more fire­fight­ers

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By DAN SOKIL dsokil@there­porteron­line.com

MONT­GOMERY TWP - This has been a busy year so far for the Fire Depart­ment of Mont­gomery Town­ship which has bat­tled two large house fires, the first on Bel­lows Way and the sec­ond on Dou­glass Road in the past month.

Both of those fires are still un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but re­in­force­ments for the FDMT could be on the way.

On Mon­day night, town­ship Di­rec­tor of Fire Ser­vices Rick Les­niak asked the town­ship’s board of su­per­vi­sors to ap­prove his ask­ing for more than $350,000 in grant money, most of which would be used to hire two new full time fire­fight­ers.

“Our goal would be, over the three year grant pe­riod, to re­cruit 10 new mem­bers and the grant al­lows you to buy pro­tec­tive equip­ment for each of

those mem­bers,” Les­niak said.

Ac­cord­ing to Les­niak, the fed­eral Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity will take ap­pli­ca­tions un­til Feb. 24 for its SAFER - Staffing for Ad­e­quate Fire & Emer­gency Re­sponse - grant pro­gram, which is de­signed to help lo­cal fire de­part­ments with staffing, de­ploy­ment, re­sponse time and op­er­a­tional stan­dards.

A to­tal of $380 mil­lion has been al­lo­cated by Congress to fund the pro­gram and the high­est fund­ing pri­or­i­ties will be to re­hire fire­fight­ers who have been laid off, re­tain those who may face lay­offs, or fill po­si­tions left va­cant through at­tri­tion.

But Les­niak said $63 mil­lion - roughly 15 per­cent of that to­tal al­lo­ca­tion - is avail­able for de­part­ments to hire new fire­fight­ers, and that’s what the town­ship is hop­ing to do.

“The first two years are cov­ered by the grant, all salaries and ben­e­fits are paid for by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, and the last year is re­quired by (Mont­gomery Town­ship) to pay for the salary and ben­e­fits,” he said.

The FDMT was founded in 2002 and con­sists of both vol­un­teer and ca­reer fire­fight­ers; the vol­un­teers respond to in­ci­dents 24/7 de­pend­ing on their avail­abil­ity, ac­cord­ing to Les­niak. Ca­reer mem­bers work from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. week­days, and the three paid full time fire­fight­ers are sup­ple­mented with a pool of part time of­fi­cers who fill shifts dur­ing train­ing and va­ca­tions. Op­er­a­tional of­fi­cers are a mix of both vol­un­teers and ca­reer fire­fight­ers, Les­niak said; he and his ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant are also town­ship em­ploy­ees.

Les­niak asked the board to ap­prove a grant re­quest seek­ing $350,000 from the pro­gram, which would fund the hir­ing for two years of two new full time fire­fight­ers for 40 hours a week - and cover the costs of ten $3,000 sets of vol­un­teer fire­fighter equip­ment - but could po­ten­tially pro­duce big sav­ings for the town­ship.

The town­ship would have to fund the po­si­tions start­ing in year three but would save money in the first two years by ded­i­cat­ing one of those two po­si­tions to work a nor­mal 40 hour shift. The other po­si­tion would be used as a flex­i­ble po­si­tion able to cover open­ings in the FDMT’S cur­rent staff sched­ule, when of­fi­cers al­ready on the town­ship pay­roll take va­ca­tion, at­tend train­ing, or are out sick.

That flex­i­ble po­si­tion would also be tasked with de­vel­op­ing and im­ple­ment­ing a re­cruit­ment, re­ten­tion and mar­ket­ing plan to draw ad­di­tional vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers into the FDMT, Les­niak told the board.

Ac­cord­ing to his fi­nan­cial anal­y­sis, salaries and wages of the full time fire­fight­ers would to­tal roughly $158,000 in year one and $164,000 in year two, with the third year ex­penses that the town­ship would pick up to­tal­ing $170,000.

Those ex­penses would be off­set by a dra­matic de­crease in the FDMT’S ex­penses for part time fire­fighter staffing: the cur­rent depart­ment sched­ule calls for over $80,000 per year to cover 4,720 part time hours per year, but hav­ing the flex­i­ble of­fi­cer on board would let the depart­ment re­duce those part time hours to 1,560 per year and the staffing costs to roughly $27,000 per year - to­tal bud­get im­pact could ac­tu­ally be neg­a­tive de­pend­ing on how much the town­ship could save on part time hours and salary.

“It’s not a com­mit­ment, but it is an op­por­tu­nity to ap­ply and see if there’s fund­ing, and if we could re­ceive help,” town­ship Man­ager Lawrence Gre­gan said.

The board voted unan­i­mously to ap­prove the grant ap­pli­ca­tion, and also voted unan­i­mously to let the FDMT ac­cept a nearly $12,000 grant that has al­ready been ap­proved from the state Fire Com­mis­sioner’s ser­vice grant pro­gram.

That grant money will be used to buy three new multi-gas me­ters - which check the at­mos­phere for ex­plo­sives, low oxy­gen lev­els, and the pres­ence of harm­ful com­pounds - and retro­fit six self-con­tained breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus to in­clude buddy breathers - which would let fire­fight­ers who are low on air at a scene con­nect to other fire­fight­ers’ equip­ment

The board also unan­i­mously ap­proved the ap­point­ments of the FDMT’S 2012 slate of of­fi­cers, and greeted those of­fi­cers with hand­shakes and con­grat­u­la­tions - and hur­ried thanks and con­grat­u­la­tions, as sev­eral of the of­fi­cers re­sponded to a fire alarm as the new slate of of­fi­cers were in­tro­duced.

Ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cers for the FDMT in 2012 in­clude com­pany Pres­i­dent Alex Olimpo, Vice Pres­i­dent Vi­nay Setty, Trea­surer Me­lanie Vas­conez, Ways and Means chair Tim Mur­ray and Sec­re­tary David Wolfe.

Op­er­a­tional of­fi­cers for the FDMT in 2012 will be Chief Wil­liam Wieg­man, Deputy Chief Ed Skrzat, As­sis­tant Chief David Vas­conez, Bat­tal­ion Chief Joseph Simes, fire cap­tains Jo- seph Ben­nett, Frank Colelli, Wil­liam Fluck and John Scheiter, lieu­tenants Steven Co­hen and Paul Smith, and com­pany Chief En­gi­neer Michael Bean. FDMT fire po­lice of­fi­cers for 2012 will be led by fire po­lice Cap­tain Rob Bai­ley and Lieu­tenant Bill Adams.

The FDMT Re­lief As­so­ci­a­tion in 2012 will be headed by Wolfe as Pres­i­dent, Setty as VP, Me­lanie Vas­conez as Trea­surer and Fluck as Sec­re­tary.

All re­ceived a hur­ried thanks from the board of su­per­vi­sors as they re­ceived a dis­patch call for a re­port of smoke com­ing from a dish­washer on Beth­le­hem Pike. Les­niak for­mally asked the board to ap­prove the slate of of­fi­cers, “and you’d bet­ter do it quickly.”

Board chair Candyce Flyehr Chimera re­sponded by thank­ing the fire­fight­ers “so much for ev­ery­thing you do,” and the fire­fight­ers were hon­ored with a round of ap­plause as they left to respond to the fire alarm.

She added that she ex­pects the board will be able to fund the po­si­tions af­ter the two years of grant fund­ing ends due to the town­ship’s strong fi­nan­cial po­si­tion.

And as for those two fires the com­pany has bat­tled so far this year, Les­niak said the fire last week on Dou­glass Road is still un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion while he and his depart­ment an­a­lyzes in­for­ma­tion gath­ered at the scene, and a rul­ing will be made on the cause of the fire last month on Bel­lows Way af­ter in­for­ma­tion comes in from the in­sur­ance com­pany in­volved.

A hot co­coa and bake sale will be held on Sun­day, Feb. 19 from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at 1 Meadow Glen Road, just off of Route 202 in Mont­gomery Town­ship, to ben­e­fit the Carl­son fam­ily, who lost their home on Dou­glass Road.

And stu­dents at Bride Path El­e­men­tary School will col­lect money on Thurs­day to ben­e­fit the Carl­sons; each stu­dent can do­nate $1 for the right to wear a hat in school that day, ac­cord­ing to prin­ci­pal Jeff Ma­cosko.

“We’ve been re­ceiv­ing do­na­tions since the day af­ter the fire hap­pened. On Fri­day things just started to show up, and it’s re­ally been amaz­ing,” Ma­cosko said.

Ma­cosko said that as he greeted stu­dents from their school buses that Fri­day, “at least a dozen stu­dents came straight up to me and said ‘What are we go­ing to do for them? We have to do some­thing.’”

“We’re just try­ing to pitch in and send the mes­sage that serv­ing oth­ers, and help­ing oth­ers when they’re in need, are good things to learn as well as your read­ing, writ­ing and math,” he said.

ANDY STET­TLER/THE RE­PORTER

FIRE DEPART­MENT of Mont­gomery Town­ship’s 2012 ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cers are in­tro­duced to the Mont­gomery Town­ship Board of Su­per­vi­sors on Mon­day.

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