Clouds and sun

$2 million federal grant to pay for 9 new firefighters for 2 years

Two Santa Rosa fire stations that are "browned out" because the city can't afford enough firefighters to fully staff them will be returned to full service soon, thanks to a $2.6 million federal grant.

The federal funds, which were unanimously accepted by the City Council on Tuesday, will pay for the fire department to hire nine firefighters and fully fund them for two years.

The additional staffing will allow Station 11 on Lewis Road in the Junior College neighborhood and Station 10 on Corporate Center Parkway in the southwest area to operate full-time for the first time since 2010, when the city's financial crisis forced the service reduction.

Ever since, they have run on an alternating schedule, with each being staffed for two days at a time.

The council praised the department for its resourcefulness in chasing down the grant, which is highly competitive and managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"It is really nice, at least for a couple years, not have to talk about brown-outs," Mayor Scott Bartley said Tuesday.

The new employees are set to be hired in March, and after a period of training, the stations should return to full-time service in May, Santa Rosa Fire Chief Mark McCormick told the City Council.

The big question, however, is what happens after those two years. The council didn't want to find itself forced to lay off those same nine firefighters when the money runs out.

But McCormick said he expects that either enough firefighters will retire or new funding sources will materialize to help the city afford the personnel. He said he expects 20 firefighters to retire in the next two years.

If new funding sources are needed, the department could continue to look for additional grant funds, or it might revisit a previously rejected idea of imposing an emergency services fee.

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