City set to OK grant for fire staffing

Watertown Fire Chief Matthew R. Timerman stands outside the fire station on South Massey Street in April, in front of a memorial honoring fallen firefighters. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — The new City Council on Monday night gave informal approval to apply for a federal grant to hire city firefighters.

New councilmen Patrick J. Hickey and Cliff G. Olney III joined Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero in supporting the application to the federal Staffing for an Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER grant.

That gives council the necessary three votes to apply for the grant.

Watertown Fire Chief Matthew Timerman recommended applying for the grant because it would save the city in overtime expenses and keep costs down on adding more personnel.

The grant would pay 100% of salary costs and health benefits for three years. Chief Timerman recommended applying for four, five or seven new firefighters.

“I wouldn’t bring it to Council if I didn’t think it was fiscally responsible and provided an opportunity to the city,” he said after the meeting.

During the 40-minute discussion, Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith peppered Chief Timerman about the grant’s financial impact, citing the staffing obligations it would require of the city.

Mayor Smith argued that the grant would end up costing the city money.

After getting asked a series of questions, Chief Timerman asked whether council members needed any more information about the grant.

Mayor Smith interrupted the chief, saying no other questions needed answering.

“You have the three votes,” he said.

Councilwoman Sarah Compo-Pierce said she needed more time to think about the issue, saying she had reservations about what would happen after the grant ran out.

Council members could vote on the issue later this month. The application is due Feb. 4.

As of last week, overtime expenses for the city reached $680,000 during the past year. It’s on the way of exceeding last year’s $1 million amount, Chief Timerman said.

Depending on the number of firefighters hired through this grant, the city would save $420,000 for every year during the three-year grant if four or five firefighters were hired, or as much as $620,000 for seven firefighters, the chief wrote.

Union president Daniel Daughtery didn’t know what all the fuss was about.

“It’s a no-brainer to apply for the grant,” he said.

Chief Timerman will continue to work on the application until it comes up later this month, he said.

Three years ago, the city received a $561,202 SAFER grant to hire four firefighters, which saved the city about $1.6 million in overtime over three years.

That SAFER grant, distributed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, quietly ran out in October.

Under the last council, city lawmakers decided against applying for the SAFER grant last year. The mayor and Councilwoman Compo-Pierce opposed it.

With a vacancy on council at the time, that council voted 2-2, so it failed because it needed the support of three council members.

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