City Seeks Grants to Cover Public Safety Shortages

By Mike Lednovich

Fernandina Beach’s Fire Department Chief and Police Chief told city commissioners their departments are operating well below necessary staffing levels to adequately provide emergency services to the city.

The chiefs told commissioners their first responder staff were over-stressed, and the city was paying unnecessary overtime wages in order to fill the staffing gaps.

Both the fire department and police department were seeking funding from grants in order to hire three full-time first responders for each department.

The Fire Department was seeking funding through the Department of Homeland Security. The grant would pay for three years’ salaries of three firefighters/EMS positions at about $995,000.

Fire Chief Ty Silcox said the department has been short-staffed for years.

“We have been under-staffed for the nine years I have been the fire chief. Before I landed here as your fire chief, the chief before me told the previous commission that we were 12 personnel below what we needed to be to meet the national standards,” Silcox said. “We’re still six short to meet the (national) standards.”

Silcox said being understaffed the department does not have “the ability to cover vacations, sick leave and injuries that leave people out for some period of time.”

He said firefighters can also suffer mental health issues from the overload of working additional hours in addition to the stress of what they experience on the job daily. “Firefighters have a 28 percent higher rate of suicide then the general population,” he said.

Police Chief Jeff Tambasco said, “Last year 47 percent of the time we were with minimum staffing in our patrol division. That means we police the city with three officers, when our patrol squads (should be) five.”

Tambasco said funding three additional police officers would beef up patrol squads to six officers.

“More importantly, it would give our people the time off they need, it would reduce our overtime to mandating people coming in to cover that minimum staffing. To keep our current standards, we feel this is vital and necessary,” he said.

Tambasco said it takes six months to hire and train a police officer for the department.

The total costs for three police officers over three years is $1,259,865. If obtained, the Justice Department grant would reimburse the city $375,000, meaning actual costs to the City for the three new police officers over three years would be about $885,000.

The city commission voted 5-0 to apply for both grants.

Prior to those votes, Commissioner Chip Ross sought to have the commission commit to funding the police and fire positions in the 2024-25 city budget in the event the city failed to obtain grant funding.

However, City Grants Administrator Lorelei Jacobs said the best strategy to obtain the grants would be not to commit funds until the outcome of the grant applications were decided.

 

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dman
Noble Member
dman(@dman)
1 month ago

These seem like essential positions, perhaps cutting less essential jobs (freezing openings to avoid layoffs) would be a better approach then temporarily funding them with grants ensuring the cost will be addition to city payroll borne by taxpayers a few years down the road.

J.Elmwood
Active Member
J.Elmwood(@j-elmwood)
1 month ago

Tambasco cites a shortage in patrol, yet created a full-time Community Engagement role with a full-time sworn officer and then forced exhausted officers to attend the community events during their shifts for photo ops. Wake up City.

Chris244
Noble Member
Chris244(@chris244)
1 month ago

Absolutely the right thing to do! In fact, this should have been addressed a long time ago. These firefighter men and women have been working with reduced staffing levels that don’t even meet the NFPA National Standards for years. As a retired firefighter I can attest that mandated 24 hour shift overtime can cause stress and other related issues. You’re away from your family for days. Not to mention the fatigue that sets in creating a recipe for mistakes to be made. And in this profession, mistakes can be dangerous.
In a previous post it was suggested non-essential positions be freed up to provide funding revenue to pay for needed public safety positions. While that seems on the surface as the thing to do, I would ask how would you define less essential. I mean as a City resident, I like the services I receive from all the departments and would not be in favor of having those reduced.
However, I do think it’s time to do a complete audit of City positions to identify what departments are heavy on employees and which ones are light. It’s a healthy approach to running a city government by being transparent. And hopefully, it will illustrate how, by having severely reduced public safety positions filled, where we can prioritize future revenue.

Mark Tomes
Active Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 month ago

And such is the result when billions of dollars of tax cuts go to boost corporate coffers and wealthy elites instead of for the common good. The next time an EMT or police officer can’t make it to your place in time, thank a Republican.

WaynesBit
Noble Member
WaynesBit(@waynesbit)
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

More partisan drivel. Why don’t you actually discuss details of the issues, instead of just throwing out partisan dog whistles to your alt-left community friends.

Albert Pike
Active Member
Albert Pike(@albert-pike)
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Do you ever have anything constructive to say? Or do you just chirp for your echo chamber? Real questions…..

georgiacambell40
Active Member
georgiacambell40(@georgiacambell40)
1 month ago

All the grant money in the world won’t fix the FBPD morale issue. There needs to be focus on keeping the officers they have before they start trying to hire more. 3 officers resigned in the last 6 months. Are exit interviews being done?

Chris244
Noble Member
Chris244(@chris244)
1 month ago

Excellent point.

Alan Hopkins
Noble Member
Alan Hopkins(@dawaves)
1 month ago

Hard to imagine that a city of 14,000 people with a budget of over $170,0000,000 can be this fiscally irresponsible. The primary job of the government is to provide safety and equal justice. Once you’ve established that then if the populace agrees you can tax them and spend money on other things. This city has got it backwards.