By utilizing the grant, New Braunfels Fire Chief Ruy Lozano anticipates the department will be able to increase their staff by around 15%, which will help improve efficiencies, cut back on mandatory overtime and enhance the department’s capabilities.
“This department has so much talent, and we have to continue to feed that talent through professional development, appropriate staffing and training,” Lozano said.
The grant comes from the federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“[The grant] provides communities nationwide with resources to hire more firefighters ... to effectively respond to emergencies,” a FEMA spokesperson said.
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant was created to provide direct funding to fire departments to increase or maintain the number of trained front-line firefighters who are ready to be dispatched.
“We’re really thankful FEMA recognizes that we’re a progressive city,” Lozano said. “We’re growing, and we want to stay relevant. We want to be an operationally significant department, and to do that, we’ve got to start thinking about our staffing capabilities.”
By utilizing the grant funding, a fourth firefighter will be added to each shift at the three busiest stations in the city: Station 1 downtown, Station 3 on Hanz Street near I-35, and Station 7, which is currently under construction off FM 306.
“Overall, we’re going to hire 19 additional firefighters, with 12 of [their salaries] being directly reimbursed for three years from FEMA,” Lozano said. “And the additional seven [salaries] will be covered through overtime savings by having better staffing in the department.”
Lozano said the department will be looking for firefighters that have a strong moral compass and dedication to their communities.
Robert Camareno has been the New Braunfels city manager for 15 years and has observed the population growth in the city, which has increased more than 66% since 2012, according to the New Braunfels Economic Development Council.
“The growth of our city has provided us with the resources to grow the department as well,” Camareno said. “We’ve been very fortunate to be able to add personnel and equipment to better meet the demands of the services provided by the New Braunfels Fire Department.”
Put in perspective
The main goal of the program is to increase the number of local fire departments that can comply with standards established by the National Fire Protection Association.
“The grant will allow the city to hire additional firefighters, which will aid in beginning to meet NFPA [standards], which recommends four firefighters on every apparatus,” Camareno said.
NBFD Lt. Justin Doegey, who has 15 years of experience in the department, said the SAFER grant will have a positive impact on firefighters and the service they bring to the community.
“[The grant is a] really a great move for us,” Doegey said. “We’re being able to get our staffing levels to a point where we’re not depending on overtime or mandatory overtime; we have a better opportunity to make our response model better.”
Diving in deeper
One of the programs that the NBFD is recognized for is its dive team. According to Lozano, the 15 member team is called out to assist other fire and police departments for water rescues, evidence collection and other emergencies throughout the region.
In the future, Lozano said the department plans to grow the New Braunfels dive team to be a regional force made up of firefighters from neighboring cities training and becoming a part of the program.
“Our goal is to maybe start incorporating firefighters from those same cities to join us and have a regional dive team that is made up of the community firefighters,” Lozano said.
While interviewing candidates that can be hired with SAFER grant funding, Lozano said they will be looking to add personnel that can contribute their individual skills and strengths to the department.
What they’re saying
- “Our team did a tremendous amount of work to research the grant program as well as the full application and then used that knowledge to develop our application.” Robert Camareno, New Braunfels city manager
- "This is the first grant of its kind to be awarded to New Braunfels, and it’s also the largest grant that they’ve ever gotten for the fire department." Ruy Lozano, New Braunfels fire chief
The New Braunfels Human Resources Department is combing through around 200 firefighter candidate applications and anticipates hiring new firefighters by utilizing the SAFER grant in early 2024.
During the hiring process, a panel of active New Braunfels firefighters will begin interviewing potential candidates to make sure they would be a good fit.
The department is also working toward constructing a full service training center next to Fire Station No. 7 that would be equipped with fire simulators, a driving course and rescue props.
The construction of Fire Station No. 7 is nearing completion, and has already been fully staffed with 24 personnel and outfitted to begin servicing the community in early 2024. According to Doegey, without the SAFER grant the department’s staffing would have been stretched thin once the new station opens.
Fire Station No. 7
- 357 FM 306, New Braunfels
- Construction cost: $9.5 million
- Size: approximately 15,000 square feet
- Staffing: 24 personnel
- Construction timeline: August 2022-anticipated completion March 2024
- Funding source: Creekside Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone