Prairie Township Fire Department to expand staffing with federal grant funds

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By Christine Bryant
Staff Writer

The Prairie Township Fire Department is about to expand to meet a growing need in the westside community.

The Prairie Township trustees voted to accept a $3 million federal grant at the Oct. 19 meeting that will create nine additional full-time firefighter/paramedic positions in the department. These additional positions will bring the total number of full-time firefighters assigned to each shift to 12, Fire Chief Allen Scott said.

“We are extremely excited for these new full-time positions,” he said. “Additional staffing will increase the safety of our members and the community we serve.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) established the Staffing For Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help increase or maintain the number of trained, front-line firefighters in communities.

The Prairie Township Fire Department has been operating on a 20-year-old staffing plan, yet has seen the number of calls increase as the westside has experienced further development. In 2021, the fire department responded to 6,401 calls for service, up 15 percent from 2020.

The $3 million SAFER grant will fund nine new positions, including salaries and benefits, for three years. Scott says the department does not anticipate spending all of the grant funds over the three-year period.

“The grant allows for application of an extension to exhaust any remaining funds,” he said. “Once all of the funds are spent, we will evaluate our financial situation and determine the need for additional revenue.”

Scott said the department will continue to pursue outside funding to help pay for current and future expenses as well.

“We have been fortunate to receive several grants over the last few years and we will continue to pursue outside funding to the furthest extent possible,” he said.

Forecasting what tax revenue will look like in three years is difficult, he says.

“We can only predict revenue based on current tax collection numbers,” Scott said.

Predicting future spending is also difficult due to the fluctuation of fuel and supplies, he said.

“Near the end of the grant period, we will have a much clearer picture of our needs.”

Full-time Prairie Township firefighters work 24-hour shifts every three days. All full-time members are both firefighters and paramedics.

“We can hire members as firefighter/EMTs, but they have to become paramedics within two years,” Scott said.

The department has a current full-time eligibility list already, so Scott says he expects the hiring process to be quick. He plans to present a list of names to the board of trustees at the Nov. 30 regular meeting. The nine new hires would then begin service Jan. 1, 2 or 3, depending on which crew they are assigned.

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