ShareThis Page
Officials probe why so little of $4.3M Westmoreland firefighter grant has been used | TribLIVE.com
Westmoreland

Officials probe why so little of $4.3M Westmoreland firefighter grant has been used

Megan Tomasic
| Thursday, February 28, 2019 11:56 a.m
811043_web1_web-firetruck3

Hardly any of a $4.3 million firefighter grant aimed at benefiting Westmoreland County fire departments has been spent since it was awarded in 2017.

Awarded Sept. 1, 2017, by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant gives departments the ability to improve recruitment efforts and training, implement retention incentives and reimburse tuition fees.

So far, about $100,000 of the money has been used, with 186 volunteer firefighters joining county departments, said Zach Freeman, SAFER grant coordinator. Only 34 firefighters in the county have received physicals, an early priority set by Hempfield supervisors, who were put in charge of the grant after funds were administered through the Hempfield Bureau of Fire.

Officials have until Nov. 24, 2021, to use the money, township manager Jason Winters said, but so far, spending has been off to a slow start.

“Honestly, I think it would probably be linked to some turnover,” Freeman said. “That just always sets things back. Now that I’m in place, I’m pretty confident we’re moving in the right direction.”

Last year, the fire bureau was put on a hiatus, stopping the township’s 12 departments from recruiting new firefighters or providing training services. Supervisors at the time attributed the interruption in services to a need for board members to regroup and discuss what the bureau will look like in the future. The fire bureau was reinstated a little over a month later.

Now that Freeman is in place, he said programs are starting to come together. Once they all kick off, the money will be spent quickly. Freeman already has marketing scheduled to go out in the spring, communications planned with medical facilities to schedule physicals for firefighters and meetings set up with local fire departments to discuss necessary recruitment and retention programs.

The marketing effort will focus on recruiting people between the ages of 18 and 35, along with women and veterans.

A 2018 gap analysis report for Hempfield showed the majority of the firefighting force was older than 45.

“It is clearly evident that within the next five years, the departments within the township will face a ‘critical’ manpower shortage,” the study stated.

This week, Hempfield supervisors voted for the manager to advertise a request for proposal for marketing the grant.

SAFER grant meetings also are scheduled throughout March, starting with four fire departments – Sardis Volunteer Fire Department, Ligonier Hose Co. 1, North Hempfield Volunteer Fire Company and Mt. Pleasant Volunteer Fire Department.

Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, mtomasic@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.