Politics & Government

Sedgwick County will apply for federal grant for firefighter staffing

Despite some concerns over taking federal money, Sedgwick County commissioners voted Wednesday to apply for nearly $1 million in grants to fill six empty firefighter slots.

But commissioners said they hoped they can fix the problem of understaffed fire stations before they have to accept the grant, by starting a program using part-time, reserve and intern firefighters.

Acting as the board of Fire District 1, commissioners voted 4-1 to apply for the $967,377 grant from a federal program called Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER.

Commissioners Richard Ranzau, Jim Howell, Karl Peterjohn and Dave Unruh supported filing the application to SAFER.

But their vote was conditioned on working for the next few months to consider locally funded alternatives to ensure adequate coverage of firefighter shifts.

Peterjohn especially questioned whether the federal money would come with strings attached. Fire officials said the city of Wichita is already receiving SAFER grant funding and they're not aware of any unusual conditions on how the money is used.

Commissioner Tim Norton supported seeking the grant, but said he voted “no” on the actual motion because he thought the language about seeking alternatives was unnecessary.

County Manager William Buchanan said the grant would be enough to fund six vacant firefighter positions for two years.

Those vacancies have left fire stations in Andale and Garden Plain staffed with two people instead of three.

The fire district also provides fire protection and emergency medical services to Bel Aire, Kechi, Park City, Maize, Bentley, Goddard, Viola, Haysville, Furley and unincorporated areas of the county.

The SAFER program provides local governments with funding to rehire firefighters who have been laid off, to retain firefighters who are facing layoffs, or to fill positions that have been left open because of a lack of funding.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.