Nearly $500,000 grant to help Byron hire 6 full-time firefighters

Move would help city move to 24/7 coverage

bpurser@macon.comApril 30, 2013 

BYRON -- The planned addition of six full-time firefighters is expected to enable the city’s main fire station to be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, firefighters say.

The ripple effect from that may be reduced response times and a better rating used by property insurance companies.

The Byron Fire Department provides fire coverage for a city of about 5,000 people over nearly six square miles. Firefighters also respond to wrecks on nearby Interstate 75.

A nearly $500,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay the salaries and benefits of the additional staff for two years.

“The most significant part of it, as the chief of the fire department, is it’s going to help me provide better service to the people in our community,” said fire Chief J.D. Mosby.

Mosby said he’s hopeful funding for the positions may be added into the fiscal 2015 budget once the grant funds are exhausted. But the positions are being advertised as temporary with the possibility of becoming permanent, he said.

The city now has two full-time firefighters, four part-time firefighters and 29 volunteer firefighters with four volunteers in training, said Dan Varga, the department’s public information officer. Varga is a volunteer firefighter who also serves as the department’s chaplain.

The main station at 103 Ga. 49 South is staffed generally 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday by the two full-time firefighters, who are the chief and the lieutenant, and the part-time firefighters on a rotating basis.

The rotations are designed to have at least two firefighters on during the week, Mosby said. Volunteer firefighters also are on call and respond as able depending on full-time work commitments. For nights and weekends, volunteers also are on call.

Hiring six firefighters will allow two full-time firefighters to staff the main station 24/7, Mosby said. The 24-hour rotations for these six firefighters is expected to be 24 hours on and 48 hours off, Varga said.

The main station includes living quarters and administrative offices and houses fire vehicles. The department’s other two stations are used only to house vehicles and equipment.

The ability to staff the main station 24/7 is expected to curb response times on nights and weekends to become more in line with the 4- to 6-minute response time for the weekly day shift, Mosby said. The night and weekend response time averages about 8 to 10 minutes, he said.

The increased response for nights and weekends is generally the time it takes for two volunteers to reach the main station to retrieve the fire trucks and then head to the fire scene to meet up with other firefighters responding, Mosby said.

In addition, an increased call volume handled by the fire department has created a need for additional full-time firefighters, Mosby said.

Firefighters responded to 167 calls in 2007, compared to 350 calls in 2012, Mosby said. For the end of the first quarter of 2013, firefighters responded to 106 calls.

“Just given that number for the first quarter, we’d be over 400 calls by the end of the year,” Mosby said.

The types of calls included pets locked in vehicles, medical-related response, motor vehicle crashes, gas leaks, brush fires, structure fires, car fires and electrical problems.

Also, current economic conditions -- when most businesses are operating with leaner staffs and smaller budgets -- make it difficult for volunteer firefighters to be able to pull away from work as was common in the past, Mosby said. The fewer numbers of volunteers able to respond at a moment’s notice also drives up the need for full-time positions.

In addition, the number of firefighters factors into determining Insurance Services Office ratings. The city now has an ISO rating of 5. The additional staffing may help “better position” the department to achieve a better rating of 3, Mosby said.

ISO measures key components of a community’s fire-suppression system. The grading is called a public protection classification that is more commonly referred to as the ISO rating. The rating is used to help determine property insurance rates.

In addition to battling blazes, firefighters also have to clean up fire trucks and restock and check equipment after calls, provide public fire safety education, flush and paint hydrants, inspect buildings to adhere to fire safety codes, and make pre-fire plans so firefighters have floor plans and contacts before a fire happens.

Mosby noted most folks don’t notice those type of things until staffing at a department becomes so stretched that there’s not enough time to do them all. Full-time staffing can help relieve the demands of those non-emergency duties, he said.

The $494,172 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant awarded through FEMA. requires the six firefighters to be hired within 90 days of the April 12 award, under the grant requirements.

The advertisement for the positions is available on the Byron Fire Department’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ByronFireDepartment.

The department’s website is byronfirerescue.org.

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