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Grant for more firefighters divides Winston-Salem City Council

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Grant for more firefighters divides Winston-Salem City Council
October 12
18:17 2017

The Winston-Salem City Council will vote Monday on a controversial grant to hire more firefighters.

The matter was continued from last month and had opposition in Monday’s committee meetings on Oct. 9. The $1.3 million Staffing for Adequate Fire Emergency Response (SAFER) grant would be used to hire 15 additional firefighters, but requires a local match of $813,000 over three years. The city would also need to spend approximately $90,000 for training and equipment this fiscal year.

Due to a mistake, the matching funds were not requested before the grant was applied for. Several council members expressed deep concerns over the proper protocol not being followed.

“You can’t put a price on safety, but we do have limited resources,” said City Council Member Jeff MacIntosh. “The way this has come to us is a problem because we’re not looking at this in concert with the entire budget process.”

Council Member Denise “D.D.” Adams said she was concerned how the matching funds would affect the city’s ability to meet its other obligations, like the current multi-year effort to make city salaries more competitive.

“We still got people to pay that we promised to pay,” said Adams.

The federal grant is designed to help fire departments have enough personnel to get an initial 15 firefighters to moderate risk residential fires in no more than eight minutes 90 percent of the time. Winston-Salem Fire Department Chief Trey Mayo said that additional firefighters would help them meet that standard, which the department currently meets 56 percent of the time.

“We are taking longer to deliver 15 firefighters than the peers who are included here: Greensboro, High Point, Charlotte and Durham,” said Mayo. “We’re taking twice as a long as Greensboro is taking.”

MacIntosh, Derwin Montgomery and Finance Chair Robert Clark questioned if more personnel were needed as opposed to more fire stations. Clark said he felt the number of stations that it would take to meet that standard would be “unbelievable.” The Citizens Capital Needs Committee is currently considering including a new fire station in a potential 2018 bond referendum.

Council Member John Larson argued that increasing fire personnel is an immediate way to help improve response time.

“It is a start, it is real money, it gets us in the door and it allows us to begin to do something we’re going to have to do eventually anyway,” said Larson.

Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke also supported the measure.

“Maybe the process was not followed through properly, but I still feel that it is a need when you’re talking about how long it takes a fire truck or a fireman to get to a place,” said Burke.

Burke’s attempt to get a vote on the measure in the finance committee died when Clark, MacIntosh and Adams wouldn’t second it. It was then approved in the public safety committee by a 3-1 vote with Burke, Larson and James Taylor voting for it and MacIntosh opposing it. It will be voted on by the full council on Monday, but may fail if at least one council member does not change their position.

If approved, the new firefighters would be placed in companies stationed on Liberty Street, MLK Jr. Boulevard, Waughtown Street, Peace Haven Road and Arbor Road. These five companies respond to two-thirds of all building fires in the city.

 

 

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Todd Luck

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