In one sense, the holidays came a little early this year for both the Richmond Hill Fire Department and the city it serves.
That’s because by Thanksgiving, Richmond Hill Fire Chief Brendon Greene aims to have six more full time firefighters in his department.
He’ll be able to afford them through a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant of more than $650,000 aimed at helping communities cover staffing shortfalls.
It’s a grant the city’s been trying to get for a few years, Greene said.
“It’s absolutely tremendous,” he said. “Our citizens are top notch, the best ones around, and we want to provide them the best services we can.”
The grant, part of FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate and Fire Emergency Response program, is for three years.
It will cover 75 percent of salaries and benefits the first two years, and 35 percent the last year, Greene said.
By then the city’s fire fee, passed in April by voters, should help cover the larger payroll.
The additional firefighters will raise the number of full-time city firefighters/first responders from 18 to 24 and increase the number of firefighters on duty at any given time from six to eight.
Firefighters with RHFD responded to 931 calls just four years ago, but with the city’s growth, calls have been steadily going up are estimated to be between 1,400 and 1,500 this year, if there’s no hurricane.
If there’s a hurricane like Matthew in 2016, RHFD could see itself answering as many as 250 additional “tree calls,” to help remove downed trees. Add in Richmond Hill’s annexation of 5,000 acres in 2017 and the coming third interchange on I-95, and the number of calls to RHFD will likely continue to climb, Greene said.
“Every year we keep increasing” he said. “We’ve been trying to find alternative means of revenue to continue to provide the best services to our citizens. We’re super excited about this grant.”