New Grant Money to Help Columbia Fight Fires Might Not Be Enough

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Fire Department received a $700,000 grant to help fund new firefighters at Station #2. That station on West Worley St. is short staffed and is the second busiest in the city.

The grant comes from the United States Homeland Security Department's Staffing Adequate Fire Emergency Response, or SAFER. The money is allocated by the U.S. Congress and comes from tax dollars. 

The grant will help the department hire five new firefighters, who will operate a second engine at Station #2 that's rarely used. Fire Chief Brad Fraiser said, "We have gone from 1.4 firefighters per capita to 1.2, which is a pretty significant number. When the population grows you would imagine so would our staff."

The new firefighters will begin their training in March and will stay at the academy for three months learning in a controlled environment. They will then begin another 18 month training program at Station #2. The grant is just enough money to get the employees through their training and pay for their salaries and benefits.

However, Fire Chief Brad Fraiser said at the end of the two years, the new firefighters will have an opportunity to take the places of people who are retiring and the city would absorb the costs.

Chief Fraiser doesn't expect the city will raise its sales tax to fund the fire department. If there is a shortage in 2015, the department can shift things in the budget to pay for the additional firefighters.