The city of Mason is on the fast-track to hiring nine additional full-time firefighter/paramedics positions.
Six of those positions were made possible thanks largely to a two-year $1.1 million grant awarded through FEMA. The three other hires are to fill existing positions, said Fire Chief John Moore.
The Staffing Adequate Fire Emergency Response — or SAFER — grant is a competitive grant program that aids departments in hiring personnel to meet staffing standards established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
The new positions will swell the department’s ranks to 36 full-time firefighters/paramedics, in addition to six uniformed personnel, including the chief and deputy chiefs, said Moore.
The hiring process is mostly complete and the new hires could be on the payroll as soon as the end of March, he said.
Current staffing demands are split 50-50 amongst the department’s full-time staff and 24 part-time firefighters, only half of whom are also paramedics. The new positions will reduce dependence on part-time personnel by about 15 percent, said Moore.
The grant covers between 66-75 percent of the costs of the new employees, he said. Costs to maintain those positions after the two-year grant’s end have been factored into the department’s future budget predictions.
“We hope that will stabilize the staffing and allow us to staff to the national standard levels of staffing,” said Moore.
City Manager Eric Hansen said the move is a cost-cutting one that will save the department money over time.
“If you can get part-time firefighters and if you can get them consistently, that’s a cheaper way to staff than full time,” he said. “But they become increasingly difficult to get and when they’re not there, that creates a hole that often is filled with overtime, which is more expensive than full time.”
The department struggles with about a 25 percent attrition rate amongst part-time staffers, said Moore. Administrative costs are also incurred in training and equipping such a large part-time staff.
“That’s kind of the nature of the beast. They’re looking for a full-time job and we’re looking for quality people and the people who get the (full-time) jobs are quality people,” he explained. “We’re competing for those good people. They come and then move on to full-time jobs. It’s a competitive world.”
The city maintains two fire stations, which handle more than 3,600 calls each year. Its annual emergency services budget is around $5.9 million, said Moore.