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Big federal grant will net 30 new firefighters

The Seminole County Fire Department will soon be welcoming 30 new firefighters after receiving a grant of $7.3 million to pay for hiring them over the course of three years.

The money, coming from a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, was formally accepted when the Seminole County Commission unanimously approved a request to amend the county budget on Oct. 26 to receive the grant.

“This is going to give us a chance to improve in some of our busiest areas in the community,” SCFD Chief Otto Drozd said of the grant.

The SCFD serves all areas in the county that aren’t already served by a municipal fire department. That includes Winter Springs, where SCFD took over fire service in 2008. Oviedo still maintains its own fire department.

The new federal grant will require no matching funding from the county, though as County Commissioner Jay Zembower pointed out, the county will have to come up with a way to pay for the firefighters after the three-year period.

“What happens in the fourth year when the grant money’s gone to these 30 firefighters?” Zembower asked.

“The good news is that there’s no bad options here,” Drozd said. “One option is to absorb them into the budget and certainly I’ve looked into the long-range model with resource management and that can be done. The other option is we’re building new stations, we’re going to have [station] 39 coming on board, station 28 coming on board, so they can be absorbed into those stations if we have a need to do that.”

The chief said that the county fire department sees enough firefighters leave through regular attrition that at the end of three years the recent hires would be able to be kept on budget.

“This is a great opportunity for the community, to enhance our fire service,” Drozd said.

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