SOUTHINGTON — Elected leaders recognized the work of local grant writers and the state’s congressional delegation in securing a $1.2 million grant to hire three additional firefighters.
"It's the work of the people here in Southington. You have to be awful proud of yourself, these are competitive grants based on need and based on qualifications and based on a very competitive application. So you make our work easy trying to represent you," said U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, at a Tuesday ceremony at Southington Fire Department Engine Company 3.
Larson was joined by Gov. Ned Lamont, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, Town Council Chairperson Victoria Triano and Board of Fire Commissioners Chairperson Nathan Wilson.
"We so appreciate your service every day, how you put your lives on the line to keep us all safe,” Bysiewicz said. "… Hopefully this will make your jobs — to protect Southington residents — a little bit easier. You know, I think the pandemic has really put a spotlight on the important work that you do.”
Fire Chief James Paul credited Larson with supporting the department’s grant application through the federal process, where it was evaluated and competitively judged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The grant is the culmination of over 10 months of work by Deputy Chief Eric Heath and Firefighter Daniel Comen, both of whom wrote the application.
The Staffing For Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant will fund the salaries and benefits for the new positions for three years. The town submitted an application to FEMA in March and received word that it was awarded $1,186,204 on Sept. 10. According to FEMA’s website, Southington is the only municipality in Connecticut to have been awarded a SAFER grant in 2021.
The three new positions will allow Engine Co. 3, based in Milldale at 35 Clark St., to be staffed during the weekday business hours, when volunteers tend to be busy with their full time jobs. The company is currently an all-volunteer unit, which has strained coverage of the southern end of town.
"What this will mean in terms of bringing additional members to the force and the training they will receive is exactly what the doctor ordered in terms of keeping our community safe and moving forward," Larson said.
Lamont said there’s bipartisan support for finding solutions to address falling rates of volunteerism at local fire departments.
"We got a bill through the legislature this session that increases the amount of tax credit, the tax credit for volunteering. We're doing everything we can to give people an added incentive to volunteer and eventually become professional firefighters," he said.
In addition to adding the new positions, Paul said the department is continuing efforts to recruit volunteer firefighters through outreach such as bringing apparatus to the Apple Harvest Festival. He noted that the town has its own stipends and tax incentive programs for volunteers.
Once the new hires have been made, they’ll undergo a 15-week training program at the Connecticut Fire Academy, meaning it will likely be around late May or early June that they take over daytime operations at Engine Co. 3. The Fire Department currently has 28 career firefighters and six administrative and fire marshal staff.