Manassas considering grant to boost Fire and Rescue Department

Manassas has a chance to boost its Fire and Rescue Department and bring it in line with national staffing standards if the City Council accepts a $1.4 million federal grant.

The catch: The city must promise to fund, in fiscal 2014, the 12 positions the grant covers for the next two years.

“It’s a challenge,” council member J. Steven Randolph (R) said about balancing safety needs with spending taxpayer dollars. “You want to assure any time a citizen calls, we absolutely have people ready to respond.” Randolph said he didn’t know whether he would support the grant.

Manassas Fire and Rescue Department officials have tried for three years to secure a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant. Administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the grant helps departments increase the number of fire and rescue officials it has operating on its critical units.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends that every engine should have at least four fire and rescue members when it arrives at a scene. In Manassas, often that doesn’t happen, fire and rescue officials said.

“We need more folks, to get our staffing levels up,” Interim Fire and Rescue Chief Wade House said. “A lot of days, we run with only three people on the engine, the ladder truck and the heavy rescue squad, and from a safety standpoint, it is not the safest way to run your operation.”

The $1.4 million SAFER grant would fund six firefighter EMTs and six firefighter medics for two years, as long as city officials agree to fund the positions during the third year at an estimated $755,000 and also purchase uniforms and safety equipment, fire and rescue officials said. It would be up to city officials whether they wanted to maintain those new positions after the three years.

City Council members have about 60 days left to decide whether they will accept the grant.

Council member Marc Aveni (R) said he wasn’t sure whether the council would accept the funds. “Obviously, we want our people to be safe,” he said, “but the cost is big.”

The Manassas Fire and Rescue Department has 42 uniformed fire and rescue members and four administrators, said Prince William County’s Assistant Fire Chief Brett Bowman, who made his presentation to city officials Monday. When not including volunteers, the city’s ladder truck has four firefighters on it 15 percent of the time it goes out on calls, Bowman said. With the grant, the truck would be staffed to national standards 90 percent of the time. The engine company provides four firefighters per unit 45 percent of the time. The grant would increase that to 75 percent, Bowman said.

House said that ensuring four fire and rescue officials staff the ladder, engine and heavy rescue trucks at all times allows Manassas to adhere to national standards and also makes it safer for personnel and residents.

Several neighboring jurisdictions already put four people on their engine, ladder and rescue trucks most of the time, including Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax counties, fire and rescue officials said.

“The reality is, no matter how many pretty trucks you have, it still takes people to do the job,” Bowman said.

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