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YFD up for $477K federal grant to alleviate staffing shortage

YAKIMA, Wash. -- The Yakima Fire Department (YFD) is up for a $477,000 federal grant after getting the green light from city council to apply for it last week.

It's funding the department severely needs, with service calls up in 2016 and a staffing shortage that's continued this year.

The SAFER grant from the Department of Homeland Security covers portions of a firefighter's salary for three years and would help YFD fill its ranks.

It's a moment's notice for fire crews at Station 91, hitting the road to a scene they can never quite anticipate.

Alarm calls peak from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and Action News followed them to a medical emergency.

The victim had difficulty breathing. She was placed on a stretcher with oxygen as an ambulance raced to Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital.

“We've seen an increase in calls for service; it has gone up a bit,” said YFD Captain Jeff Pfaff.

In fact, 400 more service calls in 2016 from 2015 - and a staggering 9,418 total calls for the year.

“It does put a little more stress on the department,” said Cpt. Pfaff.

YFD had the highest call volumes for medical emergencies - more than half the 2016 total.

'Uncategorized' calls, collisions, land fires, and structure fires rounded out the top five. And when you're short-staffed to handle disasters, it could spell even more trouble.

“That extra person will help create that extra engine void that we would have on a day when we have that person,” said Cpt. Pfaff.

With a staff of 90, YFD authorizes shifts of 30 people daily. But some days, that number has dropped to 20. A slew of retirements, vacation time, and sick days have been factors among a thin staff.

“When we drop to 20 we have to drop an engine company during the day” said YFD Deputy Chief Mark Soptich.

That has affected response times aimed at five minutes, but hovering closer to six. Mutual aid calls for help from other fire departments have also been significantly impacted.

“The vast majority of the departments that are neighboring to the city of Yakima are volunteer or part paid” said Deputy Chief Soptich.

It's a pay-day YFD is hoping for.

The SAFER grant will fund three firefighters' salaries at 75 percent the first two years, and 35 percent the third year. YFD matches the remaining amounts.

“That's one firefighter per shift, so that's one additional per day that we would add in,” said Cpt. Pfaff.

A benefit to fire crews and the community.

“We depend on that for us to be able to provide the services to the communities” said Chief Deputy Soptich.

YFD covers about 39 square miles in their jurisdiction. Fire officials said they have received the safer grant twice before, so odds may be in their favor.

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