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Grant enables department to hire entire crew
Written by Trista Steers MacVittie   
Wednesday, 28 January 2009 11:59

When disaster strikes in Cottonwood, only one engine is ready to respond.
If two emergency calls come in, the captain has to decide which one to respond to or call for help.

All of this will soon change when the Cottonwood Fire Department receives a $1.3 million grant from the United States Department of Homeland Security to double its firefighting staff.

“The primary and the only justifiable reason right now for that kind of investment are the demands of our community have outgrown our ability to serve it,” CFD Fire Chief Mike Casson said.

Cottonwood City Council committed $1.3 million for the first four years of the grant cycle and $891,012 for the fifth year, which is part of the grant stipulations.

In 2008, CFD received 2,478 calls for service and sometimes they came in tandem.

“We’ve had as many as six calls happen in 20 minutes in this town,” Casson said.

Sometimes CFD’s single crew juggles multiple calls but other times it’s forced to call for help.

“You’re just playing Lady Luck,” Casson said.

If the second call is in the heart of the city, Casson said CFD staffs a second reserve engine with its two fire prevention staff members, who are certified firefighters.

If the second call is in the northern part of the city, Clarkdale Fire District is called to assist. If the call is in the southern section, Verde Valley Fire District is dispatched.

The Federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant will give CFD a second, fully-staffed engine adding 12 firefighters to the existing 12.

The last time CFD hired firefighters was in fiscal year 2005-06 when two came on the crew, according to department records. Prior to 2002, CFD had only six firefighters using two-man crews rather than four-man crews.
Small crews also mean CFD relies on volunteers to help during major events. CFD currently has a base of approximately 15 volunteers.

In 2004, Casson said call volume reached 2,000 calls per year, and CFD knew a second engine company would be needed.

The second crew will decrease response times and allow for department training and projects.

“Our goal is to provide an engine company on the scene of an incident in five minutes or less,” Casson said. CFD strives to meet its goal 90 percent of the time.

With the single crew scurrying to calls, firefighters have little time for training.

“Right now it’s difficult,” Casson said. Every time training begins, a call goes out and the training ends.

Additional firefighters on the clock also means CFD can build map books of the community to use during emergencies, check fire hydrants and participate in community events.

The new firefighters will be put on shift within 90 days of the federal government formally notifying the city it is a grant recipient. Casson said he doesn’t know when that will be.

Currently, CFD is working to refine its hiring criteria with the help of the city’s human resource department.

CFD will advertise the job statewide, Casson said, and certainly give consideration to city employees and local qualified applicants.

To be eligible for one of the 12 positions, an applicant must have a high school diploma or GED, and have Arizona State Firefigher II and Arizona EMT certification, or an equivalent.

According to Casson, CFD hopes to get a jump-start on the hiring process so when the order comes down from the federal government, it will be ready.

The city will receive $468,180 from the grant the first year and must contribute $211,000. The second year, the grant covers $416,100 and the city covers $311,000. The third year, $260,040 comes from the grant and $518,196 from the city. During the fourth year, the grant pays $156,240 and the city pays $676,476. By the fifth year, the city takes on the entire responsibility of funding the positions at $891,012.


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