PUEBLO, Colo. - A short-staffed fire department will soon have more hands on deck. The Pueblo Fire Department received a $1 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security's Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.
Interim Fire Chief Dale Villers said the money will be used to hire about seven firefighters over the next two years.
"This will put more firefighters on the streets and every shift this will add a few people. It'll help with the overtime," he said.
Villers said recent retirements and extended medical leaves have fueled a shortage at the department. He needs 15 more firefighters to be fully staffed. "Right now we have roughly 125 people," he said.
Without the grant, Villers said he still would have brought on more firefighters - just not as many.
Debra Fowler said hiring more firefighters is good news. "You want people to be able to respond quickly and have enough people to go over the entire city," said Fowler, who lives in Pueblo.
But in the long term, there are concerns about being able to afford the extra staff.
"It seems to me like they're going to have seven more people on the fire department that will have to be paid for and unless they reduce the hours, I don't see how they're going to do it once the million dollars is gone," said Dave DeCenzo, a Pueblo resident.
Pueblo City Council needs to come up with $1.8 million to pay for the pensions of firefighters who began working for the department before 1978. Villers said the grant cannot be used to pay for those pensions.