Courtesy Tomball Fire Department
Nine full-time firefighters will be joining the Tomball Fire Department courtesy of a grant from the Department of Homeland Security.
The grant, which is for $1.24 million, will pay the firefighters' salaries and benefits for two years, according to Tomball Fire Chief Randy Parr. After that, the city is responsible for paying the salaries, but also has the option to dissolve the new positions.
The new positions will have a significant impact on the department's effectiveness and response time, Parr said at a Aug. 6 Tomball City Council meeting. He said he hopes to have the positions filled by mid-October.
“Right now, we can only guarantee that there will be two officers on the streets at any point in time, day or night,” he said. “By allowing us to get these additional nine officers, we will have 5 full-time positions filled on a 24-hour basis.”
National standards for fire departments specify that it takes 15 people to effectively fight a fire on a 2,000 square foot structure. TFD will still fall short of that standard, but with five full-time officers and one part-time, it will be able to respond to fires from both of its stations with the minimum three officers needed to operate each truck.
“We'll be able to conduct a much more coordinated attack,” he said. “We can manage the ventilation and make entry into a structure in a much safer manner than what we can presently do.”
City council voted unanimously to accept the grant. City Administrator George Shackelford said he is already looking into creative ways to manage the budget so the city can keep paying the officers' salaries when the two-year grant ends.
Some money-saving ideas include reducing uniform costs, cutting the hours of the part-time staff and bringing truck maintenance costs in house, instead of contracting them out. The gear for the new firefighters is already accounted for in the budget, Parr said.
In explaining his support for keeping the officers, Councilman Derek Townsend said adding manpower to the department can only be put off for so long.
“If we don't have the manpower, the apparatus we spent all this money on does no good sitting in the firehouse,” he said. “The department is going to be too big for just volunteers. It's time to pull the trigger.”