Weirton won’t be applying for SAFER grant

WEIRTON — Weirton Council, during its meeting Monday, voted down a resolution authorizing the city to apply for a 2019 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant, with the goal of hiring five new firefighters.

Council voted 2-5 on the resolution, which would have authorized the city, through Sustainable Strategies D.C., to submit an application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the SAFER grant. Sustainable Strategies is a lobbying organization under contract with the city to seek grants and other funding programs.

Councilmembers Tim Connell and Mike Adams voted in favor of authorizing the application for the grant, with Councilmembers George Ash, Terry Weigel, Enzo Fracasso and Doug Jackson voting against it.

While no members of council commented on the issue during the meeting, some firefighters in attendance called it a blow to the department.

“This is to apply for the SAFER grant,” Lt. Jim Bruick, president of Weirton Firefighters Local 948, said. “This isn’t even to accept the SAFER grant.”

Bruick explained the Weirton Fire Department is staffed in a way to have a maximum of six firefighters on duty during a shift, although most times a shift has five on duty. This is well below National Fire Protection Association regulations, he said.

“NFPA says four people on a truck,” Bruick said.

In an informational work session with council Feb. 27, Fire Chief Jerry Shumate explained the Weirton Fire Department currently has 24 firefighters listed on its roster. That includes the chief, eight other officers, 14 career firefighters and one volunteer.

If council had applied for, and received, the SAFER grant funding, the proposal would have allowed the hiring of five new firefighters and a move from a 48-hour shift each week to a 56-hour shift, with an increased cost estimated at $680,000 per year. The SAFER grant would have covered 75 percent of those costs during its first and second year, and 35 percent of the costs during its third year before shifting all of the costs to the city.

During the administrative reports portion of Monday’s meeting, Shumate reiterated the low staffing numbers for the department.

“We are severely understaffed,” Shumate said, adding without the grant funding, the department will have to look to the city’s general fund to cover the costs of personnel. “We’ll continue to operate unsafely until we get support.”

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