IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) - The Idaho Falls Fire Department will hire more firefighters and open an additional fire station much sooner than anticipated thanks to a $2,947,990 federal grant.
Earlier this year, department personnel applied for a SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for the first three years of wages and benefits for 12 firefighters at approximately $1 million per year. Ongoing investment in personnel beyond the three years will be paid for by the income stream resulting from the 2022 Senate Bill 1283, which increased Medicaid reimbursements to EMS agencies.
“Our fire department professionals work smart. They put tremendous effort into managing taxpayer dollars wisely. They are always looking for other funding sources to help pay for equipment and operations. The SAFER grant is a great example,” Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper said. “This grant will allow our fire department to continue to provide its top-level fire and EMS service as our community faces growth, without putting additional burdens on local property taxpayers."
The IFFD has experienced a steady increase in calls for service over the past four years, averaging 1,000 more calls per year. In 2021, they had a significant spike at 3,000 more calls, totaling 17,230.
“While we were experiencing unprecedented growth and calls for service kept trending upward at a record-breaking pace, our staffing levels remained the same,” IFFD Fire Chief Duane Nelson said. “Knowing that demand was quickly outpacing our capabilities and would be unsustainable for our personnel, we put our heads together and started working on finding creative solutions that would sustain this community well into the future."
The snowball effect of that work gained significant momentum earlier this summer. In July, the City of Idaho Falls entered into a contract with Pro-Tec Fire Services to cover fire services at the Idaho Falls Regional Airport beginning in October 2022. This service is currently being provided by IFFD personnel located at airport station #3, but the airport’s growth necessitated changes to that service.
While IFFD will continue to work with the airport and the new contractor to provide airport firefighting training and operational response as needed during emergencies, the IFFD will no longer have personnel or equipment permanently stationed on airport property. This change frees up IFFD’s resources to be positioned where growth and demand necessitate.
The momentum continued on Sept. 8, when City Council approved the purchase of a Bonneville County Fire Protection District fire station on 1.2 acres located at 370 East 65th South. The southern station, set to open in spring of 2023, will address the immediate emergency response needs resulting from rapid growth south of Sunnyside Road.
In October, the IFFD will begin preparations to get the southern station fully operational by placing asphalt on the front apron and parking area, ordering/installing dispatching hardware, and working on other minor needs. The fire engine and ambulance that were operating out of airport station #3 will be relocated to the southern station.
“To say that I’m incredibly proud and honored to have the privilege to lead such an amazing department would be an understatement. All of this was made possible by the tremendous support of our community and the hard work, dedication and creative problem solving of the men and women of the IFFD, as well as city directors, City Council and Mayor Rebecca Casper,” Nelson said.
The next steps for the department include hiring twelve new firefighters needed to staff the southern station 24/7/365 over three shifts. The department will go through the standard hiring process as outlined on its website. Potential applicants are encouraged to sign up for job alerts through the City of Idaho Falls’ Human Resource Department.