© 2024 Boise State Public Radio
NPR in Idaho
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Meridian accepts federal grant to add new firefighters

A group of firefighting recruits stand with their right hands raised during a dedication ceremony. Meridian Mayor Robert Simison is facing the group from a podium directing the proceedings.
Meridian Fire Department Facebook
Meridian Mayor Robert Simison swears-in a group of Meridian Firefighting recruits in August 2023.

The City of Meridian has agreed to accept millions of dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to add more fire fighters over the next three years.

The City of Meridian has agreed to accept millions of dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to add more fire fighters over the next three years.

The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) funding is only for personnel costs. Meridian Fire initially proposed 24 new positions at a cost of $8.1 million, approved by FEMA In September.

The agency has awarded 177 grants worth a total of $360 million in 2023; Meridian’s is one of the ten largest this year and in the top five percent of largest SAFER grants since the program began in 2015.

“This is a big win for I think, for everyone, for the community,” said Derek Nelson, President of the Meridian Professional Firefighters Local 4627.

He said the number of new personnel the grant will fund was downgraded slightly to approximately 18 new firefighters. That’s because of a change in how many engines and trucks Meridian Fire Department has in service since the time of the original application.

The change means the grant application needs to be amended and resubmitted to FEMA, and will likely result in a reduced amount. Nelson wasn’t sure exactly how that change would play out. City staff didn’t respond to follow-up questions by publication deadline.

Nelson told Boise State Public Radio in September that firefighters hoped to grow their ranks to keep up with Meridian’s growth.

“The reasoning behind the SAFER grant is for us to achieve getting the right number of people to the scene at the right time,” he said then.

Staffing engines with four firefighters, for example, would help get first responders inside buildings faster, because they work on the buddy system. A team of three has to wait for a second engine.

“We have been fighting this fight for staffing for a long time. And so this opportunity, you know, being awarded this is that kind of catch up mechanism to at least get us to that four person staffing on engines,” he explained.

The current application isn't the first time Meridian Fire has applied for SAFER grant funding.

The grant had been awarded in September, but the city hadn’t said yes to the money. A Meridian spokesperson said city leaders were performing due diligence on the long term financial impact. City Chief of Staff Dave Miles wrote by email that it costs about $170,000 annually for each firefighter; insurance, salary, benefits - the whole package.

“I am pleased to accept the SAFER grant and I appreciate the collaboration with the Meridian Fire Department and others to find an approach that allows us to move forward with our continued investment in public safety services,” Meridian Mayor Robert Simison said in a statement provided Oct. 31 by a city spokesperson. “Working together, we will be able to utilize the grant to increase staffing and prioritize the needs of all departments on an annual basis, which is fiscally prudent and aligns with our financial practices of using ongoing revenue for ongoing expenses.”

The city will incur some initial costs for onboarding the new firefighters, including training and equipment, Nelson said. City officials did not respond by publication deadline as to how much those costs might be.

Nelson said the collaboration between union membership, the department and the city was key in getting the growth plan and funding across the finish line.

“We're all very excited, and I think the process worked,” he said. “And being involved with the process was great. I really appreciate, and can't thank the council and the mayor enough for, you know, putting public safety on the top of their priority list."

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

You make stories like this possible.

The biggest portion of Boise State Public Radio's funding comes from readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

Your donation today helps make our local reporting free for our entire community.