With support from a $1.6 million federal grant, the Santa Maria Fire Department will hire staff for an additional response unit, doubling the number of firefighters at its downtown firehouse.
The grant, which the city learned it received late last week, will provide funding to support nine positions over three years. The money is from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Staffing for Adequate Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program.
The new positions will increase the number of firefighters at any given time at Station 1 from three to six, according to Fire Chief Leonard Champion.
“At every fire station there’s three firefighters,” he said. “This will be the first station where we have two units actually staffed and responding.”
The new response unit will be based at Station 1, 314 W. Cook St., along with the city's aerial ladder truck unit. One unit is defined as an engine with three firefighters.
The grant will cover 75% of the expenses for three firefighters, three engineers and three captains during the first two years and 35% of the cost during the third year. Measure U funds will make up the gap during the first three years and cover the entirety of the cost starting in the fourth year.
The new unit will allow the department to deploy an adequate number of firefighters at structure fires and improve emergency response times, Champion said.
“When we get a structure fire in the city, we’re going to have automatic coverage built in, and we’re not going to be relying so much on our mutual aid agencies to come in to cover the next emergency,” Champion said.
The department runs over 10,000 calls each year with less staffing than its sister departments with equal population sizes, according to Battalion Chief Tony Clayburg.
“Santa Barbara has fewer people [than Santa Maria] but they have eight stations. We have five stations. They have nine response units, and we’ll have six once this new unit is here,” Clayburg said.
The new grant is the first time the city has received the SAFER grant since 2012, when the grant supported the hiring of a unit at the city’s then-new Station 5 for two years.
The Fire Department is in the hiring process, and the new response unit is expected to be fully staffed and operational in the second quarter.
Outside of the nine positions that will staff the new response unit, the department is hiring for five other vacancies, thanks to Measure U revenue.
In June 2020, the fire department is set to receive two new engines. One will be used by the new response unit at Station 1, while the other will replace an old engine in use at Station 4.
“It’s an exciting time in the history of this department,” Champion said.
Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @razisyed
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