ST. GEORGE — For the first time in nearly 10 years, the St. George Fire Department has won a federal grant that will allow the city to hire nine more firefighters.
The $993,000 grant — matched with city funds totaling about $600,000 — means the department will have about $1.6 million to help bolster the rapidly growing city's strained fire staff, said St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker.
"We're the fastest growing city in the nation, pretty much, and so our services are stretched thin," Stoker said, calling the grant a "great opportunity" for St. George to make sure its firefighting force can keep up with the city's growing demands.
Now Stoker said his team begin the race to hire the nine firefighters, which will bring his staff from 34 full-time positions to 43. He said he's got 180 days from the Aug. 10 date of the grant to hire all nine.
The grant — called the SAFER grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency meant to help cities struggling with fire and emergency response needs — will pay for 75 percent of the firefighters' salaries and benefits for the first two years, then drop to 35 percent for the third year, Stoker said.
That will allow the city to "gradually absorb those costs" of the new firefighters over the next three years before the city is responsible for the entire cost, he said.
"It's hard for a city to absorb those costs in one year," Stoker added.
The chief said his department applied for the grant last year, but didn't win it. He noted the grant comes with "stringent" requirements for cities to demonstrate their need for the federal funds, as well as financial commitments from the city itself.
"We really appreciate not only our staff that took the lead in doing the grant but our other departments in the city — finance, budgeting, all those departments," he said.
Stoker said the $1.6 million will allow his department to staff the city's new Station 9 with full-time firefighters.
Though it's been nearly a decade, this year isn't the first time St. George has won the SAFER grant. The city won it once back in 2005 and another time in 2009, Stoker said, both wins allowing the city to gradually increase its fire staff.
Contributing: Marc Weaver