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Fire Department receives two federal grants

Date: 4/19/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE — Two federal grants announced recently would assist the Holyoke Fire Department in key ways.

Fire Chief John Pond explained to Reminder Publications that a $668,155 grant from the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program would enable the department to pay the salaries and benefits of five firefighters for two years. Hiring five more firefighters would put the department to a complement of 83, almost at its full staffing of 85, he said.

According to DHS, the goal of the SAFER program is to strengthen the nation's ability to respond to fire and fire related hazards and improve our overall level of preparedness. Grants are awarded directly to fire departments across the country to help them increase the number of frontline firefighters, and to rehire fire fighters who were laid off due to the economy.

Unlike other grants that stipulate the new staff members must be carried by the city after the grant money is depleted, Pond said that if necessary they could be laid off. He quickly added, though, that he anticipates they would be retained due to openings caused by retirements. This grant does not require any matching funds from the city.

"This is a huge boost," Pond said.

The other grant of $116,010 comes through Federal Emergency Management Agency's Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) program designed to help departments increase the number of frontline firefighters, and to rehire fire fighters who were laid off due to the economy.

Pond said the city must make a match of 10 percent of that grant and explained it will be used to reimburse the city for the recent upgrade of the department's radio equipment as well to pay for additional communication improvements.

Pond noted the City Council must approve of the receipt of both grants.

Congressman Richard Neal notified the fire chief about the award and Neal said, "What this grant means is there will be more fire fighters and emergency services personnel in the city of Holyoke to keep families in that community safe. Chief Pond and his team do an extraordinary job, and these two federal grants will allow them to perform their duties more effectively. I believe the brave men and women of the Holyoke Fire Department deserve the best resources and equipment to ensure public safety. This assistance will help them accomplish that objective."