June 15, 2012 by Sarah M
By Nick Halter
A slow depletion of Minneapolis firefighters will come to a halt soon, as the federal government has awarded the city a $1 million grant to hire back six laid off firefighters in exchange for a promise to hold the line on staffing.
“It’s hopefully going to allow me to more affectively staff our apparatus and improve firefighter safety,” said Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel.
The grant will pay for two years salary and benefits for six firefighters, bringing the number of sworn city firefighters to 388, said Fruetel, who took over as chief earlier this year. As a stipulation of the grant, the city will be required to maintain that level of staffing.
According to a recent city report, 39 firefighters are eligible to retire in 2012, or about 10 percent of the workforce. Fruetel said the department will have to get creative in training new employees while keeping costs down.
Firefighter staffing has been a hot topic at City Hall as of late. In 2008, the city employed 405 firefighters and was able to keep average daily staffing at just under 100 firefighters. Today, the city employs 382 firefighters and Fruetel said average daily staffing has been around 92 in recent months.
In 2005, the City Council passed a “standard of coverage” that required the fire chief to keep 96 firefighters on duty every day. Last year, the Council voted to remove that standard.
The city had laid off 10 firefighters last summer following cuts in state aid to Minneapolis. Council members did some budget maneuvering to save four of those jobs, but six firefighters have been unemployed since then.
“The hiring of the six back certainly makes a difference,” Fruetel said. “Every firefighter makes a difference.”