BLOOMFIELD — Thanks to a $1 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Bloomfield Fire Department grew its paid firefighting staff by seven.
Since May 12, the new full-time hires — five of whom were chosen from the department's pool of on-call volunteers — have undergone extensive training during a two-week-long fire academy held inside and outside of the fire station on North First Street. The new hires give the city 10 full-time firefighters. Five instructors from San Juan College's Fire Science Department — and a student participating in that program — have been running building fire and rescue drills inside and around the station's backyard burn tower, conducting automobile extraction exercises and running through other training scenarios to ensure the new recruits are ready for their first day on the job this Sunday.
With 10 full-time fire fighters, the department will switch on Sunday to three shifts consisting of three people apiece — all two days on, four days off — with one floating position. The added positions are funded by federal dollars for two years. Fire Chief George Duncan and Assistant Fire Chief John Mohler will keep their Monday through Friday schedules. A remaining pool of 23 volunteers are on-call Mondays through Fridays.
The FEMA money comes courtesy of the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant, which was created to help local fire departments comply with National Fire Protection Association standards for staffing, response and operations.
Mohler said the city's extra staffing aligns the department with association standards for a city the size of Bloomfield and will accelerate response times from an average of 10 minutes relying on volunteers for fires and emergencies to a four-to-six-minute average at all times.
"It's those minutes we can make a difference and save lives," Mohler said on Wednesday. "Over the last two years, the department has averaged around 1,600 calls per year."
With the city's recent annexation, which effectively doubles its size and includes many oil and gas plants where hazardous fires can occur, Mohler said the added personnel will go a long way toward responding to the anticipated increase in demand for fire services.
The city's fire department only hits the standard response time for emergency calls during normal business hours, he said. At nights and on weekends, the fire department's response time is about 10 minutes.
New hire Josh Mack, 27, an eight-year volunteer firefighter in Kirtland and newly minted Bloomfield Fire Department captain, said he liked the paces he and other new recruits were being put through during a third day of fire rescue drills in 1,200-degree heat inside the three story, $500,000 burn tower.
"Our goal is to be ready and enter a building within 30 seconds after the truck pulls up," Mack said. "Ultimately, with the (federal grant money), we can provide better service for the community."