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Lexington to receive $2.6 million federal grant to hire more firefighters

Homeowner Tamara Boyd looked at the damage as Lexington Fire Dept. firefighters worked at the scene of an afternoon structure fire, 375 Sheridan Dr. in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, April 19, 2012. The closest fire engine, Engine No. 12 on nearby Southland Dr., was out of service today due to inappropriate staffing according to a sign in front of the station. Charles Bertram | Staff
Homeowner Tamara Boyd looked at the damage as Lexington Fire Dept. firefighters worked at the scene of an afternoon structure fire, 375 Sheridan Dr. in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, April 19, 2012. The closest fire engine, Engine No. 12 on nearby Southland Dr., was out of service today due to inappropriate staffing according to a sign in front of the station. Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

Lexington will receive a $2.6 million federal grant to hire 28 more firefighters.

The grant was announced at a news conference Tuesday morning at Station No. 1 by Mayor Jim Gray and U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles.

It's the second federal public safety grant that Lexington has received with Chandler's support in the past 12 months. The city won a $3.9 million grant last year to hire 25 additional police officers.

Chandler said federal dollars to hire public safety workers are "so much more important in these tough economic times in Lexington and cities all over the country. These funds help fill gaps."

He said, "If we all can agree on anything, it is that the safety of the public is a top priority."

A class of fire recruits is in training. In his proposed 2013 budget, Gray included funding for two more fire recruit training classes. The grant announced Tuesday will pay for a fourth class, likely to begin training in February, said Chris Bartley, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 526.

The additional hires will bring the fire department close to its full, authorized strength of 536. There were approximately 481 firefighters after about 40 retired at the end of 2011.

"This grant will help catch us back up to where we ought to be," Bartley said.

Fire Chief Keith Jackson said the federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant will help eliminate the need for brownouts, during which a fire station or a piece of fire equipment is taken out of service for several hours, as a way to deal with staffing shortages.

Jackson said scheduled brownouts will be reduced from nine to three over the next fiscal year.

The SAFER grants are administered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A city does not receive a SAFER grant by accident, Chandler said after the news conference.

"They are very, very competitive. Cities all across the country compete for them," he said.

Before the federal government sends money to a city, "They look at the quality and professionalism of the force. They don't want these grants to be misused," Chandler said.

It worked in Lexington's favor that in an emergency, local firefighters are deployed to nearby communities to help out. Lexington sent firefighters to West Liberty after tornados destroyed much of that community.

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