Staffing a fire department can be a challenging task of shifting numbers and hours and personnel, but the job got a bit easier for Naperville Chief Mark Puknaitis with the recent announcement of more than $1 million in grant funding to pay salaries and benefits over the next two years.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave Naperville the money through the SAFER program, which stands for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response.
Puknaitis said the funds likely will allow his department to hire three firefighter/paramedics. The hiring will help fill a void left by attrition over the past few years, which has resulted in six vacant firefighter/paramedic positions and two vacant administrative positions.
"It's important because it's a million dollars and it's something that is going to help us maintain our staffing levels in the fire department," Puknaitis said.
Any firefighter/paramedics hired using the SAFER grant money, which totals $1,002,000, would work in the operations division. Puknaitis said Naperville currently has 185 operations personnel split into three 24-hour shifts.
The chief will work with the city's finance department to form a budget and determine exactly how many new firefighter/paramedics he can hire using the SAFER grant.
Recruitment to fill the positions must begin within 90 days of the city receiving the grant, and the city must maintain its previous staffing level and the new positions for the two-year duration of the funding.
Puknaitis said about 2,500 fire departments across the nation applied for the SAFER funding and only between 300 and 350 received it.