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Sales tax to fund Fort Smith firefighter jobs after grant expires

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently awarded the Fort Smith Fire Department $987,309 to fund nine new firefighter positions, allowing the department to “increase staffing on aerial firefighter apparatus equipment from two per unit to three per unit,” according to a news release from Tracy Winchell, Fort Smith Communications Manager.

Once the award has depleted, the city will continue to fund the nine positions through “the fire department operations share of the 0.25 percent sales tax” voters approved in March 2012, Winchell said.

“With the availability of the federal grant, that will free up our local revenue to spend on other fire department projects,” said Fort Smith Administrator Ray Gosack on Thursday (July 26).

Gosack said the grant will fund the nine positions for a two-year period and that sales tax collections during that time will be used for “the replacement of alarm notification systems in all 10 of our existing fire stations (in 2013)” and “the replacement of breathing apparatus on all of the fire equipment the firefighters wear when they go in to fires (in 2014).”

The sales tax money will be used to permanently fund the positions starting in 2015.

Chief Mike Richards of the Fort Smith Fire Department said the increased staffing “has been part of our overall fire service improvement plan to meet and maintain National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards for public and firefighter safety, as well as maintaining our excellent Insurance Services Office (ISO) Class 2 fire insurance rating.”

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Protection of the ISO rating was contingent on the equipment updates as well as a new fire station at Chaffee Crossing (Station 11), which could be operational by late 2013 or early 2014 as a result of the sales tax extension, with construction slated to begin next spring.

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