MATTHEWS – The Matthews Fire and EMS Department was recently awarded a federal grant that will allow the town to hire three additional full-time firefighters to help better meet the needs of a growing community.
The federal money, which will fund the positions for two years and totals $357,693, is part of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA program called Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER. Town and fire department leaders applied for the grant last budget season when the Matthews Board of Commissioners also approved funds for
another additional three firefighters. Fire Chief Dennis Green said he hopes to have all six additional positions filled by mid-March.
“We’re really excited about the chance of doing some proactive-type stuff,” Green said. “I think this will give us the people to do more and go out and do planning. That will make our community safer.”
The department currently consists of nine career firefighters, who staff the department on weekdays, and volunteers who fill in the rest of the night and weekend gaps, Green said. Volunteer firefighters get a small stipend for their hours of service to the town, according to a town news release.
The Matthews Fire and EMS Department first hired full-time staff in 2006, Green said. Before then, volunteer firefighters had more flexibility to be on call during the workday, he said. But society has changed – volunteer fire departments cannot function as easily since most employers today do not allow the same flexibility. Matthews, along with most other neighboring municipalities, Green said, had to take on career firefighters in order to keep the community safe. And the department has stayed the same size since 2006, he said.
But Matthews hasn’t. While the boundaries have ultimately stayed the same, town growth has been evident in an influx of calls the department has received. And with the new addition of Royal Park, a rehabilitation and health center for seniors at 2049 Moore Road, the department expects 2014 to be another year of growth.
“There is a lot of growth, and we also have quite a few retirement facilities in Matthews, along with the hospital and medical facilities and offices. Like any fire department, most of the calls are EMS related,” Green said. The department received between 2,800 and 2,900 calls overall in 2013, which is up from years past, he
“Not that there is any real danger yet, but we want to be proactive. And in the future we certainly will need more people.”
The interview application deadline for the new positions is Jan. 27, when Green hopes his staff and town leaders will have at least 20 applicants they are interested in interviewing to fill all six positions.
The town also is seeking veterans to fill the three SAFER grant positions, which would provide an additional year of federal funding. After the three years, the salaries will be worked into the town budget. The town set aside $162,000 for three firefighter/EMTs and one administrative person in the 2013-14 budget.
“The grant applies to two years, but if we hire a veteran, we can file an amendment for salaries for an additional year,” Green said. Currently, the department’s staff consists of firefighters from all over the area, including Gastonia, Union County and South Carolina.
Those interested in applying for the positions or serving as a volunteer can find more information on the town’s website, www.matthewsnc.gov, under Human Resources.