Urbana city council members voted Tuesday to seek a federal grant to boost staffing at the Urbana Fire Division and replace two positions after recent retirements.
The grant process will begin Monday, and applications for the grant are due March 6, said Mark Keller, chief of the Urbana Fire Division.
Those positions have been vacant since January 2014. Since then the division has been operating with a staff of 21 firefighters, as opposed to the more typical 23, Keller said.
The fire division typically utilizes three 24-hour shifts of seven firefighters, but two of those shifts now have six firefighters until the positions can be replaced.
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant would cover the salary and benefits for the two additional firefighters for two years.
“If we would get it, the city has to agree to maintain that staff for that entire timeframe,” Keller said.
There is about $321 million available nationwide in the program, and it is extremely competitive, he said. Each of the two positions would be about $76,000 per year, including salary and benefits. Urbana’s firefighters are also trained as paramedics, which also boosts their salaries slightly.
The city has been able to use the grant in the past to rehire two firefighters who were laid off during the recent recession. The previous grant has since expired, but Keller said those firefighters are still on staff because of retirements.
“Our hope is, of course, in two years we can have some recovery and maintain those positions,” Keller said of the city’s finances.
The fire division covers slightly less territory than in the past due to a change in contract with a local township, Keller said. However, he added that the number of runs the division made increased about 5 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year.
The Urbana Fire Division will also seek a separate grant from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, which could provide battery-powered cots that could automatically help lift a patient into the back of an emergency vehicle.
“It will reduce our lifting injuries drastically,” Keller said.
Under the grant, the BWC would cover 75 percent of the cost of the equipment while the fire division would be responsible for the remainder, up to $40,000.