Today, Portland Fire & Rescue learned that its application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for a grant to fund 26 firefighter positions for two years was approved. Thanks to this funding from the federal government, $4,554,394 from the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant program (SAFER) will go toward keeping Portland’s emergency response capabilities at its current levels.
Portland Fire & Rescue Chief Erin Janssens is extremely pleased that FEMA recognized how vital our city’s strategically located stations and firefighter staffing levels are to keeping Portland safe. “This grant is very important, not only for the firefighters and their families who were directly impacted by potential layoffs, but to everyone who lives, works, or visits Portland and relies on the dynamic fire & rescue services PF&R provides. Because of this past tough budget season, the federal government has stepped forward to support our city’s safety response system for two years until our City government finds a local support source. We are grateful.”
The priority of the SAFER grant is to rehire laid-off firefighters. Due to the City of Portland’s weak economic situation during the last budget cycle and its projected five-year financial forecasts, 26 firefighter positions were eliminated from PF&R’s budget. While waiting for the outcome of the grant, PF&R used bridge funding until October 1st. After that, PF&R has been financially vigilant by carrying limited savings from vacancies to cover these 26 positions and maintain service levels as long as fiscally possible. If the award had not been granted, absent any other funding sources PF&R would have been forced to close two fire & rescue stations. The grant requires that both SAFER-funded positions, as well as the on-duty staffing level that existed at the time of the award, be maintained for the SAFER grant period.
"It is great to see the Federal Emergency Management Agency recognize the vital role Portland's firefighters play in our community's safety by providing us this bridge funding over the next two years to keep all our fire stations open and operating," Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman noted. "I will make certain City Council follows through on its commitment to reestablish this funding from local sources at the end of the grant and thank all our firefighters for their patience as this process unfolded and for the important work they do every day."
Alan Ferschweiler, President of Portland Firefighters’ Association, commented on the news of the grant: "We are pleased our collaboration with the Chief, City Commissioners and the Mayor on such a critical grant to protect our communities paid off. Not only is the grant going to save 26 fire positions, it will help keep our front firefighters on the job protecting the communities they serve every day. We look forward working with Chief Janssens, Mayor Hales and City officials to find permanent funding in two years to keep our firefighters on the job and protecting our communities from fire dangers."
Chief Janssens said that the success of this application rests with the support of City Council and the hard work of PF&R staff who wrote this very complicated grant application and shepherded its progress through contingencies such as the federal government furloughs. “I also want to thank Portland’s firefighters who remained focused on the important work of keeping Portland safe even though jobs and stations were at stake. Additionally, we are appreciative for assistance from FEMA and our entire congressional delegation that signed off on our application.”
From Senator Ron Wyden: “Portland Fire & Rescue is responsible for the safety of more than 600,000 Portland residents and 65,000 businesses. These much-needed funds will ensure that fire fighters are ready to respond when called upon and that ongoing budget challenges will not diminish Portland Fire and Rescue’s ability to provide the same high-level protection for the entire community.”
From Senator Jeff Merkley: “This is great news for Portland Fire & Rescue. Now, 26 firefighters will be able to keep their jobs and two fire stations will remain open because of this funding. This is crucial funding to keep our firefighters safe and create better response times for the entire community.”
From Congressman Blumenauer: “With many city and county budget’s still digging out from the recession, the SAFER Grant program is critical to keep firefighters on the job and in our communities. I am very pleased that Portland Fire & Rescue, which provides protection for over 600,000 residents and over 65,000 businesses, was able to secure this grant.”
From Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici: “Congratulations to the City of Portland for receiving a SAFER Grant award from FEMA. Because of local budget constraints, many of our communities are struggling to provide the basic services that keep people safe. This grant will allow the city to rehire 26 full-time firefighters and maintain two fire stations in North and East Portland. Portland Fire & Rescue is essential to the safety and well-being of residents and the local infrastructure we depend on, and they deserve our full support.”