By Angie Francalancia
Boynton Beach’s downtown fire station that helps serve Ocean Ridge and Briny Breezes will be brought back up to full staffing, thanks to a two-year grant that the Boynton Beach Commission agreed last month to accept.
Boynton Beach will hire seven new firefighters with the $967,000 grant, which will cover the cost of their salaries and benefits for two years. The city had cut its crew last year to save money in the 2011-12 budget. Boynton Beach had applied for the grant issued through FEMA last summer, according to Fire Chief Ray Carter.
“This will help us bring our staffing levels in Station No. 1 up to full bore,” Carter told the City Commission.
Because Station No.1 is in Boynton Beach’s downtown directly across the Ocean Avenue Bridge, crews from Station No. 1 handle most fire rescue calls to Ocean Ridge. But because a crew was removed from the station in the wake of the staff reductions, more calls had been answered from stations farther away, causing a slight increase in overall response times. Although average response times never climbed above the standard of eight minutes referenced in the cities’ contract for services, several individual calls had taken longer to get fire-rescue crews to the scenes, according to analysis from Ocean Ridge Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi.
“In a word, fantastic,” Yannuzzi said of the news. “It’s a great opportunity for Boynton, and the trickle-down effect is great for Ocean Ridge as well as Briny Breezes.”
Ocean Ridge Town Manager Ken Schenck said he was hopeful that Boynton Beach will be able to maintain the staffing levels beyond the two years.
“Hopefully, with increases in property values, they’ll be able to keep funding the positions,” Schenck said. Ocean Ridge’s contract for fire-rescue service runs through 2016. “Actually, the contract is good for both of us,” Schenck added. “I think our contract goes a long way to help pay for it, (Station No. 1).”
Deputy Fire Chief Greg Hoggatt said Boynton Beach expected as many as 400 applicants for the seven positions, including many recent fire academy graduates. While the hiring process will involve several steps, including written and practical tests as well as interviews, Hoggatt anticipated accelerating the process to have it completed in about a month, he said.
The new firefighters all won’t be placed at Station No. 1, though.
“We’ll move them to different places where there’s a balance of seasoned officers,” he said. “We’ll balance it across the three shifts to ensure that they get good supervision,
good guidance and good