Aldermen debate firefighter grant, want to know more

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

SHALLOTTE—Aldermen are questioning a federal grant that would provide the fire department with four new full-time firefighters because of its matching fund requirements and how that might affect the town budget.

But Tuesday night, they agreed to allow fire chief Paul Dunwell to begin the hiring process for two new firefighters and to find out if hiring only two would be acceptable to the agency providing funds.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded the department $406,420 to hire four new firefighters, providing enough staffing to meet federal recommendations for safety. Dunwell said that standard is met most of the time with the help of part-time and volunteer firefighters, but that won’t always be the case.

The five-year grant requires the town provide matching funds at a greater rate each year—$15,600 in matching funds the first year, and additional money each year until reaching $189,160 the fifth year.

It would be the same cost as hiring four new employees in five years but would allow all four to start immediately.

Most aldermen expressed reservations about hiring four right off the bat and suggested two would be a better number.

“I think adding four positions seems to be excessive,” said alderman Walt Eccard.

Asked about whether asking for two would jeopardize the grant, town administrator Paul Sabiston said he wasn’t sure, but he didn’t think the agency could say “four or nothing.”

Sabiston explained when fire departments are fully staffed, small towns often seem to be over-staffed based on population, but it takes so many people to respond to each fire based on state regulations that it becomes necessary to hire more people.

Alderman John Kinlaw echoed that statement, saying he experienced it first-hand when the building that houses his real estate office caught fire recently.

“In the mechanics of a fire, you have to have a certain number of people on the truck, regardless of the size of the town,” he said.

Kinlaw said he agreed hiring two new people would be better than four right now, but he was concerned about losing the possibility of hiring two more if they were needed in the future.

Alderman Alan Lewis said the future price tag scared him, and he thought the town fire department would grow slower than that.

“This is a difficult decision for the board,” he said.

After much discussion, aldermen voted unanimously to allow Dunwell to begin the process of hiring two firefighters and, at the same time, directed Dunwell and Sabiston to talk to the federal grant administrator about the feasibility of hiring two rather than four firefighters the first year.

In other business, the board approved the preliminary plat for Wisteria Place, a proposed 41.16-acre project off Village Point Road to be comprised of 89 single-family homes.

The lots range from 8,200 square feet to more than 16,000 square feet, and the homes range from 1,600 to just under 2,300 square feet, according to developer Brian Griffin.