LAGRANGE – The LaGrange Fire District has been awarded a FEMA grant totaling more than $3.5 million dollars as part of the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program. Fire Chief Tim O’Connor wants to use the money to hire more professional firefighters for the district.
The LaGrange fire department covers 40 square miles with three stations throughout the district, answering an average of six calls for assistance every day. The department is manned by a career staff supplemented by a dwindling number of volunteers. Chief O’Connor wants to use the substantial grant, one of the largest awarded in the country, to hire nine new firefighters. “This grant allows us to catch up from years of doing nothing,” O’Connor told a group of citizens and firefighters at a special meeting on Tuesday night.
O’Connor noted that the town is seeing a large influx of growth, including 600 new homes planned for the “Towne Center” development and the need for prompt, reliable fire and EMS service is increasing. There are currently only 26 paid firefighters in the LaGrange department. As a result, Station 1 on Route 82 has 2 firefighters assigned to the firehouse around the clock, every day. Station 2, the district headquarters has 4 career firefighters including a lieutenant on staff around the clock. Station 3 has no professional firefighters at the Red Oaks Mill firehouse.
O’Connor also explained that because the district has spent years trying to avoid tax increases, there has been no money saved for future expenses such as equipment and staffing. “Any tax levy increase less than 5% is not providing for any savings for future expenses.”
District Commissioner Richard Sassi wants to accept the grant and move forward. “The grant will allow us to add nine additional professional firefighters to our staffing. This will bring us in compliance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) response standards, particularly in the Station 1 response area, ensuring a timely response to both the rural and suburban areas of our district.”
The district has until October 10 to accept the federal funds and Sassi wants to move forward. “We no longer have the large number of volunteers of years past and mutual aid is strained, particularly with increased EMS call volume in the county. Timely responses have major impacts on the end results of fire calls and medical emergencies.” The commissioner noted that there are long-term costs associated with the plan to hire new firefighters, pointing out that the money will pay for the nine new hires for three years, after which, the taxpayers will shoulder the estimated $24/year increase that would continue paying for the new first responders.