Federal grant to fund additional firefighters in four cities

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded more than $3.5 million in grants to four Hidalgo County cities during August and September, allowing for the hiring of additional firefighters paid in part by federal funding.

FEMA awarded the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or the SAFER grant to Edinburg, Mission, Mercedes and San Juan fire departments.

FEMA allocated $1,299,821 for Edinburg; $1,022,828 for Mission; $799,200 for Mercedes; and $443,038 for San Juan. The grant money must be used to hire additional firefighters within 180 days.

Mercedes wants to hire nine additional firefighters who are also certified EMTs, according to Commissioner Ruben “Chano” Guajardo.

“It is very exciting; it will be wonderful for our city,” said Mercedes interim city manager Sergio Zavala, adding that the funding comes as the city looks at launching a city-run ambulance service. Currently, private companies respond to emergency medical service, or EMT calls within the city.

“It’s definitely going to help us,” said Mercedes Fire Chief Tomas Ureste, adding: “We are already getting calls for people that have it (EMT certifications).”

Edinburg will hire 12 additional firefighters; San Juan was provided funding for four.

“The grant will enable the fire department to completely staff a fire station on the east side of the city,” Edinburg Fire Chief Shawn Snider said in a statement.

Edinburg, San Juan, Mission and Mercedes are among 31 fire departments in Texas to receive the grant.

The grant covers 75 percent of newly hired firefighters’ salaries for two years and 25 percent the third year. Cities will have to fully fund their salaries after the third year.