The city won a $4 million federal grant on Thursday to hire 30 new firefighters over the next two years, replenishing a force that was shrunk by budget cuts the past several years. Although Fire Chief David W. Hollinger and other city officials were elated at the news, they said they're still working out the details of how the grant will be used, when the new recruits could be hired, and what happens when the grant runs out in two years.
The announcement came in separate statements by U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey Jr., who had written the Department of Homeland Security supporting the city's application for the Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response grant.
"We are thrilled to be awarded this," Hollinger said, adding that he appreciated the senators' efforts.
He said the city is looking at all its options, and will be discussing with city leaders, local elected officials and the firefighters union how to proceed as quickly as possible.
"This will definitely help us with the workload," said firefighter Michael Shoumlisky, president of the firefighters union.
Because of budget cuts, the city had shrunk the minimum manpower allowed on each shift to 18, from the prior 22. That put two trucks out of service, and spread the workload among fewer people.
Shoumlisky said 30 new firefighters would be more than enough to get back to the 22-man minimum, but the city is expecting to lose 10 more firefighters to retirement over the next few years.
"We're fortunate to be dealing with a mayor and a City Council who don't fully agree" with the 18-man minimum, he said.
The city has no laid-off firefighters to call back, so the new recruits would have to go through the required six-month training period.
Shoumlisky said the city is fortunate, because its current Civil Service list of potential recruits is still good for several months. Otherwise, it would take months to get a new list.
The grant is for two years only, after which the city would either have to pay the new firefighters out of its own budget or lay them off.
However, Shoumlisky said the grant is based on need, and if the city can't afford to keep them, it has a better chance of getting a second grant.
The senators said they were happy for Reading and grateful for the DHS action.
"The rehiring of 30 firefighters can mean the difference between life and death for Reading citizens," said Toomey, a Lehigh County Republican.
Casey said Reading has a need for more firefighters and the federal funds will provide more first responders.
"This grant will create jobs and improve public safety in Reading," the Scranton Democrat said.
Written by Reading Eagle
Courtesy of YellowBrix - YellowBrix