LYNN — The Lynn Fire Department has been granted a hardship waiver for its $3.45 million federal grant, which means that hiring 20 new firefighters won’t cost the city a dime for the next three years.
The Lynn Fire Department was one of four departments statewide to be awarded the Staffing for Adequate & Fire Emergency Response (SAFER) grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The SAFER program helps organizations maintain or increase the number of trained front line firefighters available in their communities.
The 20 new hires under the 3-year grant need to be made by Jan. 31 and will bring the department’s staffing level to 183 firefighters, which is closer to the department’s optimal staffing goal of 190.
SAFER is a matching grant, which meant that initially the city would have been on the hook for paying 25 percent of the salaries for the 20 hires for the first two years and then 65 percent for the third year, according to Lynn Fire Capt. Joseph Zukas.
But Zukas said the Lynn Fire Department applied for a hardship waiver because of the city’s rough financial situation. Lynn Fire and city officials were notified on Tuesday that the hardship waiver had been granted, which turns that grant into a zero percent match from the city.
The city won’t have to pay any portion of the salaries for the 20 new firefighters for the 3-year grant period, but will have to pick up the full cost after that time period.
“This additional waiver is icing on the cake on what was already a substantial grant award,” said Lynn Fire Chief Stephen Archer. “It’s the largest by far that Lynn Fire has ever received.”
Archer said the waiver effectively increases the SAFER grant from a $3.45 million award to a $5.6 million award, saving the city more than $2 million in those salaries over the course of three years.
“It allows us to increase public safety, while at the same time helping the city get back to a solid financial footing,” Archer said.
Archer wanted to recognize the work of Lynn Fire Lt. Mike Smith, who put in many hours preparing for the hardship waiver with the grant.
With the grant, the staffing level of 183 firefighters has to be maintained over the 3-year period. If there’s a retirement, the position has to be filled.
Zukas said bringing the department to a safer staffing level with the hires will help defray overtime costs, which was supplementing the missing firefighter positions.
According to the city budget, in fiscal year 2018, overtime paid to the fire department cost the city $1.7 million.
“This is very good news for the city and citizens of Lynn,” Zukas said. “Any time we can get 20 guys paid for by somebody else for three years, it’s amazing. We’re very happy at Lynn Fire that we got this. It helps us out a lot.”
Archer said the Lynn Fire Department has seen reductions in its numbers in recent years due to attrition and a hiring freeze that left the department down 25 firefighters from where it was five years ago.
The fire chief said previously that the “new hires will mean an immediate improvement in the level of service, a reduction in the department’s overtime spending and an added benefit of improved morale within the department itself.”