Starting next week there will be another six full-time firefighters working for the Cortez Fire Protection District.
The district received a $555,000 grant that requires no matching funds. The funds will be used for the rest of 2012 and all of 2013 and 2014 to hire six full-time firefighters.
Cortez Fire Chief Jeff Vandevoorde said four of the six firefighters were working as volunteers with his department while the other two are moving from Denver.
Eighteen applicants tested for the positions, which included physical agility tests, written tests and oral boards and the six hired were among the top scorers in the three tests that were combined into an overall score.
What made the hiring process more special, he said, was that the district was able to reach out to the volunteers already working there.
He said the six firefighters, who start work Oct. 7, will help the district and the community with better response times, and added they will also enable his department to respond to multiple calls at the same time.
He said the additional six firefighters will also help the Cortez fire district meet national standards for fire departments.
He added the additional firefighters will be split into three shifts, and a shift is 48 hours on, followed by 96 hours off.
“It will help the community so much,” the fire chief said. He added while the department was surprised it received the grant, there is a five-year plan in place that addresses the need for full-time firefighters in the future.
“This (grant) is offered throughout the United States,” he said. “Only 10 percent who apply for it get this grant. It's very hard to get this grant.” Only five other fire departments in Colorado received funds from this grant, Vandevoorde said
The new full-time firefighters were sworn in and pinned at a celebration on Friday night.
Vandevoorde said the $555,000 will pay for the six firefighters, who will make $30,000 a year with benefits for the next 27 months, and the department would then have to find a way to fund them for 2015 and beyond.
The fire chief said the district is hoping the community will support a 3.5 mill levy property tax increase in the November 2013 election. A similar request was defeated by voters in April.
A mill levy of this amount would result in $500,000 and the average person would pay an extra $24 to $34 a year on their property taxes if the mill levy were to pass.
“This would allow us to keep the six firefighters, equipment and materials we need,” Vandevoorde said.
“It is something so important for the fire department to function at a level the community needs,” he said.
Vandevoorde said there is no secret on why the Cortez fire district needs this mill levy and added it wants to be transparent and will let residents look over their budget to calm any concerns.
“Calls and demands keep increasing every year,” he said.