SPFD: Santa Paulans can feel safer
now that SAFER grant secured

July 22, 2015
Santa Paula News

Santa Paulans can feel safer now that the fire department has become a recipient of a SAFER grant that will pump more than $900,000 into its budget.

The city learned Friday that it was awarded a Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant for the second round of funding for $912,976.

The SAFER grant is a competitive grant process managed by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The grant will ensure the City of Santa Paula maintains the current level of staffing for the SPFD for the next two years. 

Chief Rick Araiza said, “We are excited to be awarded the SAFER grant for the second time, and that the residents of Santa Paula will continue to receive the high level of service they expect from our department.”

And Araiza added, “It gives us breathing room for solid future plans,” to permanently boost funding to keep the department fully staffed.

“I can’t believe the weight I felt lift from my shoulders when we found out...we were scrambling for new reserves,” and Araiza said the grant will “ensure we maintain reserves as well as full-time firefighters...the grant has a lot of impact in more ways than one.”

“I’m very excited,” said Mayor John Procter. “It’s great to get the funding for two years...we can take a big breath but we have to work together on a long-term, sustainable plan to provide adequate fire protection.”

The City Council has been grappling with fire department funding since 2014 when the first SAFER grant of $825,000 awarded in 2012 and used to hire five full-time firefighters, expired.

In 2014 the then-council voted a six-month funding extension although several members questioned the expenditure and expressed leeriness of grants in general and the SAFER grant in particular.

The dialogue got even more heated when in March the now council voted to provide more bridge funding through the end of the 2014-2015 fiscal year; Councilman Jim Tovias continued his opposition to the funding noting the city should explore returning to its root as a volunteer department, using reserves only for less responsible firefighting positions.

The SAFER grant was created to provide funding directly to fire departments to help them increase or maintain the number of trained “front line” firefighters available in their communities. The goal of SAFER is to enhance the local fire departments’ abilities to comply with staffing, response and operational standards established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Araiza noted that Marleen Canniff worked with the SPFD to secure the first grant as well as the second round of funding, which couldn’t have come at a better time: not only has the funding run out but the SPFD is down three firefighters still on medical leave following a November 18, 2014 toxic explosion and fires at Santa Clara Waste Water - Green Compass facility west of Santa Paula.

The department also lost an engine in the incident.

Araiza worked to keep the SAFER grant a priority not only for the department but also for the community, making sure the council and the public received regular updates on fire operations and staffing. 

Araiza said firefighters hired by the grant “Stuck with us and kept serving the community with real commitment,” although their positions were increasingly jeopardized

The effort to again secure a SAFER grant Araiza noted, was truly a joint one:

“Congresswoman Julia Brownley and Assemblyman Das Williams wrote letters urging the Grant Programs Directorate in D.C. to give full and fair consideration of our request. And the City Council really stepped up with a letter affirming their continued commitment to maintain adequate staffing levels.”

City staff under the direction of City Manager Jaime Fontes supplied detailed financial documents and other necessary data.

SPFD Captain Jerry Byrum “Had all the department vehicle and call volume statistics,” and noted Araiza, “and now he’ll have even more stats to gather for the quarterly reporting!” required by the grant.

SPFD PIO Andy VanSciver was an “idea man” and conferred with officials on policy interpretations and Assistant Chief Dustin Lazenby “always followed up quickly when FEMA had a question...”

Chris Mahon, president of the Ventura County Professional Firefighters Association, supplied area salary figures and provided a D.C. contact, Ron Benedict, for an application review.

Said Araiza, “It was a long, complicated and challenging process but we’re really happy that Santa Paulans have a safer future with this grant...”

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