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County hires 9 new firefighters with grant
New firefighters pic
Dawson County Emergency Services recruits Joseph Lawson, Meghann Tennant and Brandon Collins graduated from the Georgia Basic Firefighter Training Program at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth on March 2. The three were hired as part of the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant awarded to Dawson County in 2017. - photo by For the Dawson County News

Dawson County Emergency Services has completed the hiring process for nine new firefighters/EMTs stationed at fire station No. 2 after the department was awarded a $1.5 million federal grant in 2017.

Station No. 2, located on Hwy. 53 near Tractor Supply, serves the heavily populated 400 corridor where Fire Chief Lanier Swafford said he can justify the need for additional staffing.

“From our perspective it just provides some increased safety from our staff because sending one or two firefighters on an engine to a location with the footprint the size of Kroger or Home Depot, it’s hazardous because you need additional people just based on the size of the properties they’re protecting,” said Swafford.

In August 2017 Swafford brought the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant, before the board of commissioners and received approval to apply. 2017 was the third time the department had applied for the grant and the first time they received it.

Swafford said that he thinks the one thing that helped the department get the grant was that he focused on bringing one station up to compliance, instead of spreading out the additional personnel among all the county’s stations.

Prior to the new hires, only one or two people manned engine No. 2, but thanks to the grant, four firefighters can now be deployed on the engine at a time.

 “Putting four firefighters on engine No. 2 allows us to more closely comply with the staffing standard established by the National Fire Protection Association,” said Fire Chief Lanier Swafford. “That’s the first engine in the county to be able to do that.”

By mid-March, all nine firefighters had completed the training requirements and were put on-line.

Some of the firefighters who were hired had already been trained, having worked for other fire departments or received their training prior to taking positions in Dawson County.

“We were pleased that through the hiring process we were able to employ a mix of folks who had some experience versus some folks that didn’t have experience so I think we got a good bend out of the mix,” said Swafford.

All of the applicants who were hired had completed or were in the final stages of completing EMT training. Three of those were sent for training at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center where they completed an eight-week, 345-hour program on March 2, which was paid for by the grant.

The nine new firefighters at station No. 2 are Joseph Lawson, Meghann Tennant, Brandon Collins, Josh Warren, Jason Watkins, Jake Wray, Dustin Smith, Brad Clark and Keith Chapman.

“They all are just excited and doing a good job,” said Swafford, who said he has been able to interact with each of the new hires.

The SAFER grant is a three year grant awarded by the Department of Homeland Security and comes with several stipulations. The nine firefighters could only be assigned to station No. 2 and could not be current part time or volunteer firefighters within the county.

At the end of three years, the county can decide whether or not to continue their employment as well as apply for an extension.

“The challenging part is that it’s not a 100 percent grant so it requires people to put skin in the game,” said Swafford.

The SAFER grant covers 75 percent of the salary and benefit costs for the first two years and 35 percent for the last year, leaving the county to pay $144,360 in 2018 and 2019 and $351,994 in 2020.

Swafford said he will make it known to the county commissioners when the grant is open and seek their direction when looking to reapply or ask for an extension in the future.