Board seeks grant money to hire more firefighters
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.
FIRE DEPARTMENT of Montgomery Township’s 2012 administrative officers are introduced to the Montgomery Township Board of Supervisors on Monday.