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September 22, 2023

Frederick County getting $9.7 million federal grant to hire 32 firefighters

Credit: The Frederick News-Post

Frederick County is getting a $9.7 million federal grant to hire 32 career firefighters, County Executive Jessica Fitzwater, D, announced Friday.

The addition of new career firefighting positions are part of an ongoing effort to transition from three- to four-person staffing for each of the county’s fire engines, ladder trucks and rescue squads, Fire Chief Tom Coe said at a press conference.

“Four-person staffing is scientifically proven to perform more efficiently in critical tasks like search and rescue and putting water on the fire,” Coe said. “More efficient fire grounds means safer fire grounds for the citizens we serve, as well as the firefighters working to save those citizens.”

The shift from three- to four-person staffing on each unit was prompted in part by lessons learned from the 2021 line-of-duty death of Battalion Chief Joshua Laird.

An after-action report on the fire that claimed Laird’s life generated 137 recommendations for the county’s Fire and Rescue Services Division, one of which was to increase staffing.

Coe said the division created a three-step plan to accomplish this goal. The first step was accomplished last year, when the division added one additional firefighter apiece to seven different fire suppression units.

Those positions were funded through the same grant program as the new positions announced Friday, which represent step two of the division’s plan.

Since 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program has given more than $35 million in funding to Frederick County, according to the department’s website.

This year’s grant money will be put toward salaries and benefits for the first three years of the new firefighters’ careers, Coe said. After three years, the cost of retaining the new hires will shift to the county’s budget.

The 32 new firefighters will be hired as part of the recruit class that will start training in January, Coe said.

When the new recruits complete their training in November of next year, the Division of Fire and Rescue Services will employ a total of 633 career firefighters, according to county spokeswoman Chloe Scott.

FEDERAL AND COMMUNITY PARTNERSFitzwater, D, announced the $9.7 million grant in collaboration with the federal delegation for Frederick County, including Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and Rep. David Trone, D, who is running to replace Cardin in the Senate next year.

Also in attendance were representatives from the Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County, a chapter of the International Association of Firefighters, and Sara Laird, Joshua Laird’s widow.

“Josh Laird lost his life trying to help others. We can’t do enough to show our appreciation,” Cardin said. “And quite frankly, the way we allocate taxpayer dollars shows priorities. It shows who we think is important.”

Cardin said the SAFER grant is incredibly competitive, and that Frederick County received more money than any other grantee in the state this year.

During the news conference at the Northgate Fire Station in Frederick, members of the county’s federal delegation mentioned other actions they are taking to help first responders do their jobs.

Van Hollen said he introduced in the Senate the Fire Station Act, which would create grants for fire station construction and infrastructure improvements.

The delegation is also supporting the Fire Grants and Safety Act, which would reauthorize the SAFER program for the next five years. The current program authorization is set to expire on Sept. 30.

In addition to the news conference, the federal delegation appeared at the groundbreaking of the new facility for the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County on Friday.

“I really cannot emphasize enough what it means to have a federal delegation like this, because they show up when it matters,” Fitzwater said.

The delegation’s presence in Western Maryland on Friday was especially notable as Congress works to pass a budget for fiscal year 2024 and avoid a government shutdown. The Senate has already come to a consensus, but the House remains at an impasse.

“It’s 50-50 today, but the clock is ticking,” Van Hollen said in an interview with The Frederick News-Post on Friday. “And every day that goes by where the House of Representatives does not act makes the shutdown more likely.”

The deadline for Congress to pass next year’s budget is Sept. 30.