Joshua Dillen
The Baker City Herald

Baker City has been awarded a federal grant that, if the City Council agrees to accept the money, would allow the city to hire three additional firefighters.

Whether the city could afford to keep the additional employees beyond the three-year period of the grant, however, is uncertain.

The fire department has 14 full-time employees now. They staff fire engines as well as the city’s ambulances.

The $426,000 SAFER (staffing for adequate fire and emergency response) grant is awarded through FEMA.

To receive the grant, the city would have to pay a 25-percent match for the first two years — $57,500 per year — and a 65-percent match — $149,700 — for the third year.

City Manager Fred Warner Jr. said the additional positions would greatly enhance emergency services throughout Baker County, since Baker City Fire Department crews respond to calls outside the city limits.

“It makes our ambulance service more reliable,” Warner said. “Having more crews available to go out into the county makes that a lot stronger program. It helps the entire system.”

The added positions would increase the fire department’s ability to respond to multiple calls across the county without having to summon off-duty employees.

“That affects our overtime budget,” Warner said.

He said he hopes the city could meet the match requirement by saving money on overtime costs, which would drop with the addition of three new firefighters.

“If we add three more full-time (employees) and space them out, we should be able to cut our overtime significantly,” Warner said.

The fire department’s overtime budget for the current fiscal year, which started July 1, is $85,000. The city spent $65,000 on overtime for the fire department during the previous fiscal year.

Warner said it will be a challenge, however, to find money to retain the three firefighters after the grant ends.

He said the city could re-apply for the grant after the three-year grant period is up but the odds of getting it again are slim.

“Part of my job is to see if we can make it sustainable after three years,” he said.

See more in the Sept. 6, 2017, issue of the Baker City Herald.