SAFER grant denial forcing layoffs, fire station closure - WNEM TV 5

SAFER grant denial forcing layoffs, fire station closure

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)
SAGINAW, MI (WNEM) -

The Saginaw Fire Department is being forced to downsize due to budget constraints.

The city of Saginaw has funded its fire department using federal money from the SAFER grant for years, but this year the city was cut off.

"That stations been here since my parents were kids," said David McDougall, resident.

McDougall couldn't believe his ears when he heard Fire Station 3 was shutting down. He has been going to the station since he was a kid and even planned to take his daughter there.

Now he is at a loss for words knowing it won't be available if a fire breaks out in the neighborhood.

"They've saved families that you know, friends of mine that wouldn't be here if those guys weren't there," McDougall said.

The Saginaw Fire Department has had to rely on SAFER grants for years to help fund the station and its staff. Those grants require the city to match 25 percent of the cost.

This year the percentage was raised, leaving the city with no option but to decline the grant. The result was closing station three and layoff 13 firefighters.

The grant, which is issued through FEMA, allowed the fire department to keep staffing levels above 50. TV5 tried reaching out to FEMA, but have not heard back.

William Buckinger, president of the Saginaw Firefighters Union, said he knows why the grant application was denied.

"So the SAFER grant for 2017 changed their credentials a little bit. The grant was geared towards new hires instead of retention. A bigger problem was that they introduced a cost match to the new grant where the city is obligated to match a certain amount of the cost put forward from SAFER," Buckinger said.

The city acknowledged it did not have the funding necessary to match the cost.

Buckinger said the SAFER grant has helped fund the department in the past, but it was never meant to be a permanent option.

"We've been operating on SAFER funding since 2013. So for about four years. And our numbers have been cut since then. So I mean, this makes a huge hole," Buckinger said.

Despite the closing of the fire station, the firefighters are still doing all they can to help support their community.

"If we can get another grant and the city can match them or we can get funding somehow for us to open that station up and bring us all back, it would be great for us and be great for the citizens of Saginaw too," said Jonathan Starling, firefighter.

He is now of the station's former firefighters.

"Just going to try to find another career fire department to go to. This is something I love coming to every day. This is honestly the best job in the world," Starling said.

He is still holding out hope the city will respond to the crisis and get the station up and running again soon.

McDougall is more worried about the staff who have now been forced to look for new work.

"That's 13 people, you know, 13 families. Where are they going to work at," McDougall said.

As for station three, Buckinger said the building will not be torn down, at least not yet.

"It'll still be maintained as a hub of the Saginaw Fire Department. It just won't be manned 24/7. And it's been manned 24/7 for about 70 years now. So that's a huge change," Buckinger said.

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