Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Grant Funding for Firefighting: A Response

On Monday, when reporting about Senator Charles Schumer's call for increased federal funding for local fire departments, Gossips mused about why, in its recent acquisition of a pumper truck and its anticipated purchase of a new tower truck, the City of Hudson seems to have to rely on its own resources. This morning, a response to that post was received from Neal Van Deusen, who was a member of J. W. Edmonds Hose Company for forty-two years. Van Deusen joined Hudson's volunteer fire department in 1972 and served as First Assistant Chief from 1987 to 1992 and as Fire Commissioner from 1994 to 1999 and from 2003 to 2005. It is with his knowledge and permission that Gossips publishes his comments.
The Hudson Department of Fire has applied for AFG grants four times and received approximately $150,000 in funding in two grant awards. The last two times we applied we have been denied. These grants were used to upgrade our self-contained breathing apparatus and for fitness equipment in the Fitness Room at the Central Firehouse.
As far as apparatus is concerned, the AFG apparatus component seeks to replace apparatus that can be deemed too dangerous to be on the road. The focus is on heavy duty trucks like tankers and ladders which are approaching the 30 years in age or older and are indeed dangerous to operate. Aerial devices will most likely not be certified past 20 years of age, and they become a liability to departments who operate them past 20 years. Also, the ability of a community to pay for the apparatus is a major factor in awarding grants.
The fact that we are not a good candidate to receive AFG grants does not mean we do not solicit and receive assistance from other sources. State Senator Steve Saland was able to procure state funds that paid for a new Ford “F-350” pickup truck placed in service in 2008. Columbia Memorial Hospital donated the equipment trailer for the HFD Dive Team. The Galvan Foundation donated $10,000 to purchase a new command center and lighting for the new Chief’s car placed in service in 2013. Donations made to the Hudson Department of Fire “Eyes of Life Fund” have been used to purchase thermal imaging cameras. All of this has saved Hudson taxpayers thousands of dollars.
The fire service is at a disadvantage when compared to law enforcement. Law enforcement can apply for hundreds of grants at the state and federal levels while the fire service in New York State is primarily limited to three. Those being SAFER, AFG, and the NYS ENCON brush fire grant; the latter of which we do not qualify for.
When you look at true need for a community to receive fire service grants, Hudson is now near the bottom of the list. This is not a bad thing. We do have a bustling economy here.
Providing fire protection for any city is expensive, even when the total cost of personal services for the HFD is $0. I would guess that there are few, if any cities, in the State of New York that have lower fire protection costs than Hudson.
The cost of all firefighting equipment, from firefighting gloves to apparatus, has skyrocketed over the years. HFD officials have not just stood by expecting the city to provide us with every piece of equipment we request. HFD officials have worked hard to cut costs while continuing to provide excellent fire protection in the city.
As recently as 1999, the HFD operated seven primary pieces of apparatus; five engines (pumpers), one ladder truck, and one heavy rescue. These seven pieces of apparatus had to be replaced every 20 to 25 years. Now the HFD has four primary pieces of apparatus in the replacement cycle: two engines, one tower ladder (with a pump), and one rescue engine. The reduction in size of the HFD was the result of measures initiated by HFD officials who wrote the justification for the downsizing.
Whereas the City of Hudson was purchasing either two or three primary pieces of apparatus per decade since World War II (two per decade in the 1940s, 60s, 80s, and 00s; three per decade in the 1950s, 70s, and 90s), they will purchase only one piece of apparatus in the 2010s (the Hoysradt Hose engine which was received in 2013). There will be only two pieces of apparatus purchased in the next decade; a new ladder truck and a new engine to replace Roger’s Hose 1999 engine. AND the debt service and rent on the Central Station will come off the books in 2030.
It is difficult to forecast future HFD expenditures past the next decade. The overriding question is: “Will Hudson still have an all-volunteer fire department?”
When the city purchased the rescue engine in 2005, the HFD committed to selling one of two engines purchased in 1999, along with a 1987 engine and a 1983 heavy rescue. The proceeds from selling these three pieces of apparatus were meant to be used to reduce the debt service on the rescue engine when it was received in late 2006. Unfortunately, as so often happens, when the money from selling the three pieces of apparatus was received, it was used to purchase parking meters. So instead of the having the rescue engine paid off by 2011, it won’t be paid off now until 2020 or so.
The fire department also initiated the removal of the fire/police alarm boxes and air horns in the late 1990s. This not only resulted in the savings of what was a five figure annual alarm maintenance line item, but also reduced the HFD’s call volume by 100 or more fire calls per year. At over 300 fire calls per year, we are still the busiest FD in Columbia County.
I can go on and on about how we work to contain costs. . . . 
The Hudson Department of Fire has the heaviest fire load to protect and responds to the most fire calls in Columbia County. However, we have fewer pieces of primary apparatus than a number of departments in the county. (For example, we have the same number of primary pieces of apparatus as the Red Rock Fire Company.) Also, the cost of fire protection in the City of Hudson is NOT the highest in Columbia County.
The taxpayers of Hudson are extremely fortunate to have an all-volunteer fire department that has worked diligently to contain and reduce expenses. The City of Hudson has a true bargain in its fire protection.


  1. We are, as a community, incredibly fortunate that we have our dedicated volunteers to keep a city made principally of wood-frame structures safe. We benefit a great deal by planning for and managing our investments in both equipment and training for the HPD, and among these benefits are lower property insurance rates which benefits owners and renters alike.

    Having studied more City budgets than I ever thought I would, I have to agree with the basic conclusion: there is no way we, as a community, could possibly afford the level of protection and service we receive from these volunteers if they were paid even a fraction of what they are worth. This is one of the reasons the City Council has been moving forward with the HFD to create a 401(k) like retirement savings plan for the volunteers -- to provide at least a small but tangible "thank you" for all they do on all our behalf.

  2. Thank you to Mr. Van Deusen for articulating in such a clear way, the many ways the HFD fights for funding, keeps costs down and protects our lives, city and property.