The City of Arlington has been awarded a $16.6 million federal grant that will help fund the Fire Department’s phased transition to four-person staffing.
Arlington’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant is the third largest awarded by the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency out of 177 awarded nationally so far this year. The three-year grant will help the City cover the salary and benefits for dozens of additional firefighters between February 2024 and February 2027.
In September, the Arlington City Council approved a phased plan to transition the Fire Department from three-person staffing to four-person staffing on all fire engine and ladder truck calls for service, a national safety practice standard implemented in other major cities. The Fire Department, which currently employs 403 firefighters, plans to add 81 new firefighter positions over the next two fiscal years to further enhance the City’s fire prevention, emergency response and community health outreach capabilities.
To begin this transition to four-person staffing, the City Council approved $8 million in the FY 2024 operating budget for 40 additional firefighter positions and necessary equipment, with funding to be allocated for 41 additional positions and equipment in future fiscal year budgets. Now, the federal grant will help cover the costs of 63 of those planned positions over a three-year period, allowing Arlington to allocate funding to other city priorities during that time frame.
The SAFER Grant Program, which has awarded $360 million this year, provides funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to assist in increasing the number of firefighters to help communities meet industry best practices, attain 24-hour staffing to provide adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards, and fulfill traditional missions of fire departments.
The SAFER grant funding will bolster the Fire Department’s 2025 Strategic Plan, which includes preparing for evolving technologies, Homeland Security concerns and meeting increased demands from the public for new and existing response services.
“This grant will allow us to be more efficient with our resources as we serve the citizens of Arlington. FEMA certainly sees what we see. The City of Arlington is growing rapidly and is expanding upward,” Fire Chief Bret Stidham said. “Having four-person staffing will help us look at our current response models to improve response capacity and reduce respond times. This is really big for us.”
The transition to four-person staffing will allow the department to:
– Meet National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 1710) standards and get the appropriate number of firefighters to structure fires more quickly in fewer vehicles. This will allow more units to be available for additional emergency calls.
– Complete fire ground tasks more efficiently on scene. These tasks include evacuations, citizen rescues, applying water on fire, ventilating smoke more efficiently, thus reducing the loss of property and life.
– Increase safety for firefighters going into burning structures. This will allow Incident Commanders to assign a four-person Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC) earlier in the fire. This crew’s sole responsibility is to rescue firefighters in trouble.
– Be better equipped to respond to call in Arlington’s increasing number of multi-story buildings. NFPA’s best practice for fires in high rise buildings (greater than 75 feet) is a minimum of 42 firefighters assigned to the initial dispatch and on scene to aid in rescue of citizens and fire suppression. High rise fires are labor intensive and require many firefighters to accomplish simple fire ground tasks that are much easier on one- or two-story buildings. The Entertainment District in Arlington has several new and existing buildings that are taller than 75 feet.