$1.4M to fund nine new firefighters in Pharr

The city of Pharr has been awarded a $1.4 million grant which will go towards the hiring of nine firefighters.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez announced the grant via a news release on Tuesday, expressing hope that the funds will “help keep our firefighters safe” in addition to grow the department in Pharr.

City commissioners unanimously approved and accepted the grant, which amounts to $1,475,883.99, during their Oct. 5 regular meeting. The grant is part of a Department of Homeland Security program called Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER.

SAFER grants were created to enhance local fire departments by providing funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations; this particular funding comes from the 2019 fiscal year allotment.

“The grant is divided into three different years, and they give you for salary,” Pharr Assistant City Manager Anali Analis said Tuesday. “It’s gonna be the salary of nine firefighters.”

Analis said the grant is equivalent to three years worth of salaries for nine firefighters. After the three years, it is up to the city to continue funding their salaries.

“The funding starts immediately for all nine (firefighters),” Analis said. “Because we are civil service, we do have a hiring process to follow. We have to fill the vacancies in ex amount of time. The plan is to hire all nine firefighters in the first year.”

The assistant city manager explained that if all nine positions are not filled, then the city runs the risk of losing the funding for the unfilled positions.

Commissioners are expected to authorize the new positions at a future meeting.

“As soon as that’s done, then we’ll go ahead and look at our hiring list, which I believe is set to expire in November,” Alanis said. “We should probably be hosting an entry level exam for firefighters in the next month in order to have a good list for us to go and select the nine firefighters.”

Analis said that the city anticipates having the nine new positions filled by the end of the year, pending written and physical examinations, as well as a rigorous background check.

There are currently 36 positions filled at the rank of firefighter. With the nine new positions, that number will increase to 45.

“We’re excited to be awarded,” Analis said. “It’s extra resources that we could always utilize and have at the station that was opened late 2019. Definitely, we could always use more staff, but there are limitations in every municipality. The fact that we are receiving nine paid firefighters for three years is a big deal for us.”