OCOEE Ocoee Fire/Rescue recently received a $1.46 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help bolster its fire protection coverage of northwest Ocoee.
“In the northwest area, we have not had any fire protection,” Chief John Miller said. “We’ve been counting on people to assist us from Winter Garden or Orange County. It worked fine, but fire protection was taking longer as growth started happening out there.”
The station responsible for covering the northwest region of Ocoee is Fire Station No. 38, located in the Publix plaza on West Road. Currently, the station is home to a rescue truck and is not adequately staffed to accommodate a fire engine, which would require hiring 12 firefighters.
Realizing the city of Ocoee did not have the budget to cover an additional 12 firefighter salaries, the department applied for the highly competitive FEMA Safer Grant - a grant that only a handful of departments in Florida have ever received.
“It’s for either rehiring personnel laid off or hiring new personnel to meet national standards of having fire protection in our community,” Miller said.
After securing the grant, Miller said the department plans to begin the hiring process immediately to fill the 12 new positions, which equates to four people working on a rotation of three 24-hour shifts. The goal is to have an engine in service by the start of 2018.
“It’s critically important for all citizens of Ocoee to be provided with that protection,” Miller said.
The grant will cover the salaries and benefits of the 12 new firefighters for three years. After that point, Miller said he hopes to have funds in place to maintain a full staff in that region through ad valorem taxes.
“You have a large community being built - there are going to be about 2,000 new homes built in the next few years,” Miller said. “When all that growth happens, we start generating ad valorem taxes.”
Because Fire Station No. 38 is located within the plaza and has no space to house an engine aside from the parking lot, Miller said that the department is already planning to build a new fire station in the area within the next 18 months.
“It’s a significant win for the residents and businesses in that area,” Miller said.