Grant awaiting City Council approval would allow Minneapolis to rehire six firefighters

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Minneapolis was awarded a $1.07 million grant to hire back six firefighters who were laid off last year.

The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency aims to increase the number of trained firefighters in local communities to meet staffing, response, and operational standards.

The grant will fund the positions for two years, helping to bolster staffing and lower overtime costs that have piled up in recent months.

Mark Lakosky, president of the Minneapolis firefighters’ union, said six firefighters won’t make much of a difference in staffing shortages.

“What we do takes people,” Lakosky said.

The fire department currently employs 390 people, which is a drop from recent years, Lakosky said. 

“Nearly every city department has taken cuts in recent years,” said John Stiles, Mayor R.T. Rybak’s spokesman. He said the fire department has had to take its share too.

Lakosky cited concerns that the fire department isn’t maintaining adequate response time due to a smaller staff.

The National Fire Protection Association has set a target for 90 percent of emergency responses to be five minutes or less. It also recommends that at least 14 personnel be deployed at a first alarm fire within nine minutes and 20 seconds 90 percent of the time.

In 2010, 90 percent of responses met the 14-person standard. In 2011, only 79 percent did, according to a city report.

One of the critical components in meeting this standard is staffing levels, according to the report.

Lakosky said if staffing levels remain the same, “we will fail a citizen and it will be directly linked to our staffing levels and our response time, and someone will die.”

The City Council will need to approve the grant in the coming weeks, and re-hiring would then begin mid-summer, according to Minneapolis spokesman Matt Laible.