Santa Maria fire trucks being readied for service.
The Santa Maria Fire Department will get new grant-funded firefighters in 2020 and also new engines. Representaives recently visited Hi Tech in Oakdale to see two of the agency’s newest engines in the build-up stage. They should be delivered in 2020 and were funded by the Measure U sales tax hike. (Contributed photo)

A federal grant will allow the addition of nine new firefighting positions over the next three years in Santa Maria, providing a boost to public safety. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded the Santa Maria Fire Department $1.6 million in a Staffing for Adequate Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant.

The new slots will let Santa Maria add another response unit at a time when infill development throughout the city will affect the already busy department.

“We’re super excited to get this opportunity,” Fire Chief Leonard Champion said. “It’s going to greatly help the community.”

The new response unit will be positioned at Station 1, the city’s busiest station, to provide automatic coverage during emergencies.

Station 1 is located on West Cook Street near South Pine Street, putting it downtown near the heart of the city.

The existing truck company of three personnel will be joined the engine companies, with three personnel each. 

“This added response unit builds in an automatic coverage during a structure fire so we don’t have to wait for that mutual-aid resource to come into the city and provide that coverage” Champion added. “We can provide that ourselves so we’re starting to become more self sufficient with this added resource.”

At times when Santa Maria firefighters are busy on calls, crews from the Santa Barbara Barbara County Fire Department help cover the south end of the city while Cal Fire personnel do the same at the north end. 

For significant fires, the neighboring agencies also have responded to assist with the incidents. 

“So we start to stretch thin our neighbors, and that makes it difficult,” he said. “This added response unit is actually really good for the entire Santa Maria Valley.”

Grant funding will provide money at a funding ratio of 75 percent for the first year and second year, and 35 percent in the third year, a city spokesman said.

The city’s voter-approved Measure U local sales tax of 1 percent, putting the rate at 8.75 percent, will cover the remaining expenses, and 100 percent in the fourth year and thereafter.

Even as the city announced the grant and new slots, the Santa Maria Fire Department already had launched efforts to hire people to fill vacant and new entry-level jobs. 

The new firefighters should begin the department’s academy in January and once that training is done the added response unit will be fully staffed and operational by April. 

With the new slots, the Fire Department will have more than 60 employees.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.