JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department will soon be able to hire 67 new firefighters, thanks to a $5.9 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.
JFRD Director and Fire Chief Martin Senterfitt said the department has been short 91 positions due to attrition.
"We're still responding to all the calls and we still have all the apparatus in service," Senterfitt said. "But that means the men and women on this job have fewer days off, they can't take the leave time."
Senterfitt said the JFRD is running fewer crew members on engines and ladder trucks, so it has to call in more units from across the city to fight large fires like the one at the Olive Garden restaurant in Regency Monday morning.
"Big fires require a certain number of people, and if you're riding fewer people on each apparatus, you have to send more apparatus, which in turn spreads the amount of area that's not covered," Senterfitt said.
Taxpayers hope this new grant means better fire service.
The City Council still has to formally approve the plan before the grant can take effect. That's expected within the next 90 days. Senterfitt said he hopes to have the first class of new firefighters on the street in March.
The grant runs for two years. Mayor Alvin Brown told Action News the city will reassess staffing levels and funding at that time.