BARSTOW • The Barstow Fire Protection District will create six new positions thanks to a FEMA grant approved at Monday night's joint special City Council/BFPD meeting.

FEMA awarded the BFPD $1,392,882 under the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program. The City Council unanimously approved the acceptance of the grant.

 According to Fire Chief Rich Ross, the SAFER grant will increase daily minimum staffing by one-third. He said that will greatly improve firefighter safety, operational efficiency and the level of service that the district provides at no direct cost to Barstow residents.

On Tuesday, Barstow Mayor Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre said the city is proud to be a SAFER recipient.

"The grant provides funding to increase staffing for our fire department at no additional cost to our residents," Hackbarth-McIntyre said. "We are constantly looking for ways to improve our services for the people in our community, and this is a very positive step as we look to 2014 with a continued sense of optimism for our city."

The two-year SAFER grant will be used to hire three firefighter/paramedics and three firefighters.

The firefighter/paramedic classification existed in the BFPD, but the firefighter classification did not. The council unanimously approved the creation of the new firefighter positions.

Assistant City Manager Oliver Chi said the new positions must be filled by March 1 to meet the grant requirements.

"The grant was obtained in part to establish a squad vehicle team," Chi said. "That squad vehicle team will be staffed by two staff members, one classified as a firefighter/paramedic, and one staffed as a firefighter. The firefighter will perform similar duties to the firefighter/paramedic, but you won't be required to obtain the paramedic certification."

The SAFER program's stated purpose is to "provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations in order to help them increase or maintain the number of trained, 'front line' firefighters available in their communities."

The National Fire Protection Association Standard 1720 for the initial response to a structure fire recommends that 10 personnel arrive at the scene in 10 minutes. The BFPD was awarded the SAFER grant "because of the frequency we're unable to meet that standard," Ross said in a presentation.

The grant will fund all pay and benefits for the six new positions for two years. BFPD will apply for a new grant after the two-year period, but if not approved the new positions will not be maintained, with the employees being laid off.