By Seth Daniel
The Chelsea Fire Department announced this week that they have secured a major federal grant to pay for the hiring of eight new firefighters in this year’s budget – with Chief Len Albanese saying the new recruits could hit the streets by Thanksgiving.
The Homeland Security grant provides $1.4 million of federal funding over a three-year period, covering 75 percent of the salary and benefits for two years. The third year of the grant will cover 35 percent of the share of salaries and benefits.
In the fourth year of the grant, the City would be responsible for 100 percent of the costs associated with the new hires.
Albanese said that in the end, concerns about not getting the grant due to Chelsea’s Sanctuary City status did not factor into whether the City did or did not get the grant as the application was put in last year.
Overall, the big news is that the Fire Department will go over 100 members for the first time in decades.
The grant will put the contingent up to 102 member.
“We’ve had 92 members for quite a while,” said the chief. “Prior to my arrival and when I got here and that’s a situation I assume goes back to the 1990s – post-receivership. (Last year), we added two members to get up to 94 and with the intention to add more. With the SAFER grant now in place, we can add eight new members and that brings our staffing up to 102…Having 102 is what we consider to be a really good staffing level for the Fire Department.”
He said that Revere’s contingent is at 98 and Everett – which also has a SAFER grant- is at 111.
He said adding the new members won’t eliminate overtime, but he believes it will bring it down to a reasonable number – eliminating what has been many years of controversy surrounding overspending on overtime.
“The purpose is to not just decrease overtime,” he said. “There’s always overtime in a 24/7 business…This will control overtime and put boots on the ground. It will stabilize overtime and increase staffing.”
Already, Albanese said he has identified the eight recruits from Civil Service, having been confident of getting the grant and taking early action. That will mean they get in the Station very quickly.
“We have eight recruits identified and they preparing to attend the Brookline Fire Academy on Sept. 5,” he said. “That means if all goes well, we will have these additional firefighters on the street by Thanksgiving.”
Along with this grant and another recently received, the fire department has garnered $2 million of federal funding from the 2016 DHS/FEMA programs.