Tuesday, March 28, 2023

MLFD gets $3.3M grant for additional personnel

Staff Writer | March 2, 2023 1:30 AM

MOSES LAKE — The Moses Lake Fire Department has been awarded a $3.3 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security to employ a number of new firefighters and paramedics over the next three years, according to MLFD Chief Brett Bastian.

Speaking to the Moses Lake City Council during a regular meeting on Tuesday, Bastian said the grant – which the city council unanimously voted in favor of – under DHS’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program has no strings attached and no requirement for city matching funds, so long as the grant money is spent solely on salaries and benefits over the next three years.

This will allow the MLFD to hire nine additional personnel – some combination of firefighters and paramedics – on top of the 33 currently employed, he said, and will help the MLFD adequately respond to the demand for service.

“We desperately need the staffing,” Bastian told council members.

Bastian said the department’s staffing problems affect paramedics the most, noting that once at a call, paramedics cannot move on to another concurrent call even if the need is more pressing.

“We can’t abandon a patient, and there’s no backup,” the chief said. “We call our mutual aid partners, and they have no one to send either. We’re dealing with this on a daily basis.”

City Manager Allison Williams said with the number of new, high-technology companies like silicon battery makers Group14 and Sila Nanotechnologies setting up production in Moses Lake, the city will need expanded and more sophisticated fire protection service. The grant will also allow the city to deal with the number of ambulance calls – which the city is also trying to address with a non-firefighter position to help meet the needs of frequent 911 callers – by hiring another medic unit.

“This is a win/win for us,” Williams said.

Council Member Mark Fancher said the city does need to deal with the change in fire protection needs high-tech industry poses, but was concerned the city would face a major bill for additional salaries and benefits once the grant expires.

“I struggle to figure out where the $1.1 million will come from in four years,” Fancher said. “Three years is not a long time. It will come quickly and we need to take it seriously.”

Bastian told council members the three-year clock on the grant will give the city the opportunity to make some difficult choices about the scope of the services the MLFD is asked to provide. The chief said he appreciated living in a city that offers its own ambulance service and the MLFD has sought out every state and federal grant it can find to keep that service going as a way of showing that Moses Lake takes care of its own.

The chief also said the willingness of previous city councils to “kick the can down the road” and not make difficult choices about maintaining and upgrading city services has meant a lot of investment is going to be needed in the future and the city is going to have to figure out the best way to spend its limited resources.

“The city is going to continue growing,” the chief said. “A lot of hard decisions need to be made.”

Council Member Judy Madewell said she appreciated living in a city with a municipal ambulance service, noting that both she and her husband have needed to use that service several times.

“I’m so thankful for the ambulance,” she said. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

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