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City pursues fire grant to fill vacancies
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The Turlock Fire Department is hoping to grow its ranks with a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Turlock City Council gave its unanimous consent Tuesday night for the fire department to pursue a Staffing of Adequate Fire and Emergency grant from FEMA. If awarded the grant, the fire department could fund three vacant fire fighter positions at Station 3.

The grant would pay 100 percent of the firefighters' salaries and benefits for two years, with the exclusion of overtime pay, Fire Chief Tim Lohman said.

The department would have to maintain staffing levels during the two year period, but is not obligated to keep the positions going after the two years are over. The grant stipulates that the department cannot make any layoffs during the two year period.

“They do have a waiver, but in general, they don’t allow that,” Lohman said.

There is no local matching funds required, but the city would have to pay for the hiring expenses, which include physicals, psychological assessments and training. The hiring cost for three fire fighters would total approximately $30,000, Lohman said.

The fire department currently has 42 members and has to pay overtime on a regular basis to keep staffing levels at three personnel per station per shift.

The SAFER grant would allow the fire department to cut back on overtime pay for the two year period.

The Turlock Fire Department is seeking $589,685 from the grant.

A total of 2,500 fire departments are expected to compete for more than $300 million in grant funds.

Typically, FEMA begins handing out the grants in November, but the current government shutdown could push that back to a later date.