MARTIN COUNTY − Martin County commissioners approved hiring 20 new firefighters and applying for a federal grant for 20 more.
The 20 new positions will help “bring an immediate reprieve to our field personnel because they are working an extensive amount of overtime,” Fire Chief Chad Cianciulli said Friday.
Commissioners Feb. 21 voted 4-1 with Commissioner Sarah Heard dissenting. The vote included hiring 20 more firefighters and applying for an additional 20 — for a total of 40 — via a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant for Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER).
The agency has 315 firefighters before the 20 approved by commissioners, and 11 total fire stations, Cianciulli said. Normal shifts are 24 hours.
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County records related to the commission agenda item state the additional 20 positions will be an increase of $1.7 million to $2.2 million over the next three years.
Cianciulli said the agency got 33 additional employees in 2009 as part of a SAFER grant and 24 in 2017.
“In 2009, we were very, very understaffed,” Cianciulli said. “It’s almost the position we’re in today.”
At the time, there were overtime payments of more than $3 million. The additional 33 employees “drastically reduced that overtime,” Cianciulli said at the meeting.
Records show the emergency call volume grew 63 percent countywide since 2009. Demand at Station 30 in Port Salerno has gone up 102 percent and at Station 33 in Hobe Sound has increased 91 percent.
“What we have done in the past couple of years, because the increase on emergency services, the demand from the public, has increased so drastically — especially over the last two years, we’ve gone up just 13% alone — that we had to add five additional rescue trucks on the road,” Cianciulli said.
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He said they lacked the personnel to staff the trucks, so they were 100 percent funded with overtime.
“The Fire Rescue Department does not have enough personnel to meet the minimum daily staffing need without utilizing overtime shifts,” county records state. “A consistent daily staffing deficit coupled with employee fatigue has made it increasingly more difficult for shift supervisors to balance out the schedule with willing takers to fill the open shifts.”
Cianciulli said if they get the SAFER grant, FEMA will pay for the positions 100 percent for three years, but after that the county would be responsible.
He said the average response time is 6 minutes and 30 seconds for those in the urban services boundary, generally east of Interstate 95.
“It’s a very good response time, and we’re adamant about maintaining that level of service,” Cianciulli said. “That’s the reason we put those five additional trucks, so we never lost that level of service.”
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