For a change, fire chief Rick Balentine woke up with good news in the morning. Early Wednesday, Balentine learned that the Aspen Protection Fire District had received a $ 1.3 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 100% of which will be used to recruit and maintain eight volunteer firefighters each year. .
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant – which comes through the US Department of Homeland Security – is retroactive to 2019 and continues until 2023; it will cover health insurance, the firefighters’ seniority assignment plan, and all their equipment needs, Balentine said.
“This helps us to maintain strong volunteer forces in the future,” he said.
The district credits Jan Schubert, who is responsible for accounting and payroll, for obtaining the grant. Schubert said it will be used by “about eight firefighters each year for the next four years.”
The added staff will help maintain coverage around the clock.
“It will include all their perks, all their bunker gear. All of this is a huge expense. That’s nearly a million dollars in health insurance, ”Schubert said.
The district has 11 paid firefighter positions in total, including Balentine and Deputy Chief Parker Lathrop. The volunteer pool has a depth of 34 people; 10 new members were sworn in recently. Each year, the district averages approximately 1,800 service calls.
“Paid people can’t do it alone,” Schubert said.
But the volunteer base is aging, with the average age of an Aspen firefighter “around 45,” he said. “It is difficult to find new and young volunteers. Health insurance as an advantage will help us in our recruitment. “
According to a letter from Christopher Logan, assistant assistant administrator for grant programs: “The purpose of the SAFER grant program is to provide funding directly to firefighters and volunteer firefighters’ interest organizations to help increase the number of firefighters to help communities meet the industry minimum standard and get staff around the clock to provide adequate protection from fire and fire hazards and to perform traditional firefighter missions. “
Fittingly, the letter from FEMA to the fire district was dated 9/11.
“We have had volunteers on site here since 1881,” Balentine said. “This will ensure it stays strong.”
Madeleine Osberger is the interim editor of Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter