Easthampton Fire Department snags $1.5M federal grant to add 4 firefighters

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 09-24-2023 3:57 PM

EASTHAMPTON — As call volume and service demands increase, a $1.5 million federal grant will allow the Easthampton Fire Department to hire four additional firefighters by next spring.

The nationally competitive Department of Homeland Security’s Staffing For Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant provides funding to fire departments for the purpose of recruiting trained firefighters.

“This will really allow us to increase our fire suppression capabilities, essentially ensuring that we have an engine staffed all the time,” Fire Chief Christopher Norris said.

The grant funding will cover the $67,000 to $68,000 annual salaries and benefits for all four positions over the next three years.

Since 2020, the department has seen a 20% annual increase in call volume, in part due to an aging population and increase in medical care needs.

“This award really acknowledges that increase in our operational demands because this was reviewed by outside personell across the country looking at our demographics, looking at our call volume, looking at the cost analysis, and through that competitive process really said, ‘This equates to Easthampton needing more people,’” said Norris.

The fire department operates on an “all-hazards” mission framework, meaning that not only does the department provide fire suppression services, it also provides emergency medical services, hazardous materials response, technical rescue response, water rescue and more.

The department is currently staffed by 32 full-time firefighter personnel. Having four additional personnel will allow the department to staff eight firefighters per shift, as opposed to seven.

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Not only will the increase in full-time firefighters ensure that the fire engine is always staffed, but it will also allow the department to staff all three of its ambulances. There are times right now when the department only has the staff for two ambulances.

“Personnel are our most valuable resource and the addition of these positions will allow the fire department to maintain staffing for fire suppression capabilities while still maintaining personnel to respond to the increasing EMS emergencies that require transportation to a health care facility,” Norris said.

Easthampton also provides mutual aid services to Westhampton and Southampton.

“This will allow us to continue to assist those communities, while at the same time increase and heighten the capabilities here in Easthampton,” Norris said.

Because the fire department is a statewide civil service hiring agency, it hires off the state entry-level exam, which will take place this fall. Results from the exam will be certified and available for departments to hire from in early spring.

The SAFER grant comes on the heels of three other grants awarded to the city’s fire department over the past couple of months.

In mid-August, two grants totaling $565,000 provided funds for the city to replace old equipment including a brush truck, air filling system, and self-contained breathing apparatus.

And just a week earlier, the department secured a $229,000 Assistance to Firefighters Grant on behalf of several Hampshire County communities to provide training for 70 new paramedics and EMTs across the region.

“These awards bring vital federal funding to our community while helping to offset the financial constraints in other areas of the municipal budget,” Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said in a statement.

The fire department has been awarded over $2.7 million dollars in grant funding over the last three years.

“I think these awards recently are really a reflection of the capital needs that the department has been looking at for the past few years now,” said Norris.

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com.]]>