In The News
LMT ONLINE: City: Laredo Fire Department able to hire 24 new firefighters due to $3.3M grant
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar and the City of Laredo announced Thursday that the Laredo Fire Department is now able to hire 24 new front-line firefighters thanks to a $3.3 million federal grant.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency's SAFER grant is very sought-after, officials said, with cities around the country applying for funds.
"This is a competitive grant," Cuellar said. "So when my hometown of Laredo gets this, I'm very proud."
With the $3,276,320 award and a $2,036,632 investment by the City of Laredo, the fire department will be able to pay for the salaries and benefits of 24 cadets for three years.
Deputy City Manager Cynthia Collazo said the city's contribution will have to come from the general fund and be budgeted out over the coming years. For the first two years the city will pay 25 percent of the new employees' salaries and benefits. For the third year, the city will be responsible for 65 percent.
This is the third time Laredo has been awarded the SAFER grant. It was used to bolster the Laredo Fire Department's force in 2007 and 2011 with 15 and then 30 new cadets, respectively, Fire Department Chief Steve Landin said.
Cuellar said one of the reasons Laredo was able to secure the grant this year is because of the face time city officials scored with FEMA in their annual trip to Washington, D.C. It's important to establish these working relationships, Cuellar said.
In these talks with FEMA, federal officials don't give anything away about the city's chances of getting grant money, Landin and Collazo said. But after the city's presentation this March, they walked away saying that this was their year.
Landin said when he took on his position as chief in 2008, the city was spending about $4 million annually on overtime for firefighters.
Then-City Manager Carlos Villarreal addressed this by slowly approving new positions, Landin said, and now his department's overtime costs a little over $1 million a year.
"Although, a million is a million. That's a lot of money! I would like to see the day that we're fully, fully staffed — to where I open up my roster for the day and I see no one on overtime," Landin said.
The 24 new positions that will be paid for through the SAFER grant will help combat this overtime spending, Landin said. But the spots can also be used to staff a fire station in far north Laredo, near UniTec on the city's northern border along Interstate 35 or in the possible development along the forthcoming Hachar Road, between Mines Road and I-35 north of Loop 20.
Landin said the Laredo Fire Department will be accepting applications for new cadets from Sept. 11-15, and the entrance exam will be Oct. 18 at the Laredo Energy Arena.