DALTON -- Dalton Fire Chief Gerry Cahalan said a $225,642 federal grant will enable him to bring on two full-time firefighters to the all-volunteer district.
The opportunity promises to improve response times and deliver a host of ancillary benefits -- right down to keeping equipment up to snuff -- Cahalan said.
"This is a massive jump-start that's going to make a big difference" the chief said. "Our calls are going up and it's hard to cut it with a department of just volunteers. It's a lot tougher than it used to be in the old days when I started out."
Covering the department during Cahalan's fairly regular excursions as a member of the U.S. Air Force is another anticipated function of the new staff.
Administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant will fully fund the salaries of the two firefighters for two years.
On Friday, U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal announced that Dalton Fire Department would receive the grant.
"The professionalism and resolve of our first responders in Berkshire County is well known," Neal said in a press release. "This important grant for [Dalton] will allow them to be appropriately staffed and trained so they can continue to keep their town safe."
"We need to support our first responders in the same way they support us -- with action and commitment," Markey added in the same release.
In Dalton, fire department calls have increased from an average of around 800 per year to close to 1,000. This is because firefighters no longer respond just to fires, but to medical calls, frozen pipes, car accidents and more.
Cahalan said the district was considering the hire of one full-time firefighter, which would supplement the department's only present employee, and roughly 30 volunteers.
In considering, the chief studied about three years' worth of fire response records and found the department was hitting the target of six firefighters on the scene inside 14 minutes only 28 percent of the time.
Though the finding surprised him -- Cahalan thought the figure would hit closer to the mark -- in falling short, the department qualified to apply for the grant.
So the chief commenced writing the grant, which required a wealth of detail, like the financial state of the district, its present status and goals looking ahead, with the assistance of a state fire marshal.
"I was contacted by both Senator Warren and Rep. Neal's office [Friday] and they offered big congrats and said it's great," Cahalan said. "And they're right. It is."
According to the grant, the positions should be hired inside 90 days. Cahalan said he plans to look for internal candidates. After the grant expires, the firefighters salaries must be paid for by the district, and Cahalan said a "plan of attack" is in the works.
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