GARDINER — A divided City Council has opted not to apply for a grant this year that would have paid the salaries of several new firefighters for two years.

But the city’s fire chief said he might submit the request again as demands on the Fire Department continue to increase.

“I can see the call volumes going up,” said Al Nelson, who has been chief in Gardiner for about a year and a half. “I would like to have had things in place before becoming reactionary.”

On Wednesday, he outlined to the council his request to add seven firefighters to his staff of 15. Under the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant, he was seeking funding for four additional firefighter/paramedics this year and three additional firefighters next year.

The SAFER grant, funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, pays for salary and benefits for two years. While the program requires no matching funds from the city, the city must come up with the money to pay for salary and benefits for the firefighters once the grant expires.

If Gardiner secured the grant, keeping those firefighters on staff would cost the city about $137,000 a year after the first grant expires and about $240,000 after both expire. By Nelson’s calculations, that would raise taxes by about $103 for an average household.

The Fire Department now staffs three shifts a day with four firefighter/paramedics. Nelson said he would like to staff each shift with six.

“When we show up on the scene and we have only four people, it leaves us in a position where it’s difficult to get firefighting operations completed the way they should be,” Nelson said.

The deadline for the grant is March 25, and the relatively short time to consider the obligation rankled some city councilors

Nelson developed a proposal to pursue the grant at the request of some city councilors who learned about it last year from consultants hired to review the level of services in Gardiner.

MRI Resources suggested seeking the grant to add volunteer firefighters to the city’s full-time Fire Department. The grant is also available to communities that need help meeting national standards with a full-time department.

In pulling together the data for his presentation to city officials, Nelson found that overall, the volume of calls is increasing. Part of the rise is because of the return of two towns to the city’s ambulance service, but volume is also up overall.

“What makes me nervous,” Nelson told city councilors, “is when no one is available to take a call.”

Nelson has tracked the data, and in 2015, the station was left with no coverage 468 times. That’s nearly double the frequency of four years ago, when it was left uncovered 252 times.

Jessica Lowell can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

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Twitter: @JLowellKJ