Unable to win the support of the Board of Finance, the Westport Fire Department is turning down a $1.2 million grant that would have helped hire eight new firefighters.
Fire Chief Christopher Ackley said having to turn down the Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant was a huge disappointment.
"We've applied for this grant numerous times," Ackley said. "Now that we've been able to succeed, lo and behold, we can't accept it."
Offered to all fire departments across the country, a SAFER grant is highly competitive to secure.
"We were one of three departments in the state to receive a SAFER grant and the only one in Fairfield County," Ackley said. "Of the three, we received the most money."
If the department had accepted the grant, it would have covered the salaries and benefits of eight new hires for two years. After that, the town would have picked up the costs.
"I can understand the long-term cost concerns with the health benefits and salaries, especially with the way the economy is," Ackley said. The grant "would have been an asset to the town, though: two years they wouldn't have had to pay."
The grant would have addressed staffing shortages at the Coleytown and Greens Farms stations. Currently, both stations have only two firefighters per shift, Ackley said. The goal is to have three firefighters per shift.
"Our No. 1 concern is the safety of our firefighters, the safety of our residents and the quality of service we provide. Take a look at what happened in Bridgeport," Ackley said, referring to the deaths of two firefighters in a recent blaze. "That could happen to any community. God forbid the same were to happen here."
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