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By TAD SOOTER
It wont lower home prices, but a $650,000 federal grant awarded to the Bainbridge Fire Department will go a long way toward helping attract volunteer firefighters.
The department received the Federal Emergency Management Administration grant Wednesday, to help pay for the recruitment and retainment of firefighters, which has been challenging due to the islands high cost of living.
Bainbridge took home the largest of the nine awards given to fire departments in the state as part of FEMAs Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program. The agency awards $115 million in grants annually to departments nationwide.
Bainbridge Fire Chief Hank Teran said the money will pay for a full-time recruitment specialist and incentives for keeping volunteers on the force. The department prefers to find its firefighters locally, but island prices make it hard not only for families to find homes, but free time as well.
A lot of the time you have two income families, and there is less time for people to volunteer for anything, Teran said.
The recruitment specialist will work with Teran to expand the appeal of the department. One key strategy will be reaching out to people who dont fit the stereotypical firefighter mold.
When people think of firefighters, theyre thinking of someone in their mid or late 20s, Teran said. But there are roles that can be filled by people of many different age groups.
Once on the force volunteers are often drawn away by family obligations. Teran said the grant money can help the department keep volunteers engaged even as their personal lives change, and offer bonuses like health and dental care plans.
Well be looking at what we can offer outside of just service to the community, Teran said
The department currently has 50 volunteers and a paid staff of 27, including 18 career firefighters and medical responders.
Volunteers can apply for several positions with varying requirements for training and time.
Firefighter and emergency medical service volunteers complete a physical review and attend a six month training school, after which they can respond to emergency pager calls at home as probationary members. Volunteers are approved by the Fire Board of Commissioners.
Special service volunteers donate their skills to help victims handle stress in emergencies or work on department projects. Young adults can become fire cadets and help assist in department tasks, helping medical scenes, tending to firefighter rehab centers, filling air tanks and attending weekly training sessions.
Volunteer benefits include enrollment in a state volunteer pension program, a disability program and an $8 reimbursement for calls along with the practical experience and camaraderie.
The department will be looking to expand its staff and capabilities to match growth on Bainbridge Teran said.
The island is changing, he said, and the need for services is going to keep growing.
The heat is on
The Bainbridge Fire Department accepts volunteer applications year-round.
Information on volunteer opportunities and applications is available at www.bifd.org or by calling 842-7686.