The Lakehurst Volunteer Fire Company was one of three New Jersey fire departments to receive federal grant money to help recruit and retain its emergency responders.
The borough's fire department received $94,400 of the $790,000 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response funding supplied through FEMA, according to a joint announcement made by democratic state Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez last week.
The funding, which will be spread out over three years, will go toward bolstering the number of firefighters in Lakehurst and providing compensation to those who respond to calls, said Chief Ed Seaman.
"We're trying to keep our members here in Lakehurst," Seaman said. "This is a substantial amount of money that will help us to keep our guys, get more guys and respond to calls with full crews."
Seaman said that Length of Service Award Programs, which provide annual compensation, has drawn away responders from Lakehurst to neighboring departments in Manchester.
"We lost some members — residents of Lakehurst — to the Ridgeway and Whiting fire departments," he said, adding that Lakehurst cannot afford such a program for its 17 active volunteer firefighters.
In addition to Lakehurst's award, Vineland and Voorhees given $365,452 and $334,000 of the federal funding, respectively.
"This is great news for Vineland, Voorhees and Lakehurst fire departments and even greater news for the families who rely on them in an emergency," Menendez said in a statement. "Keeping neighborhoods safe is our top priority and I will always fight to ensure our first responders have the tools they need to protect our families."
Small municipalities like Lakehurst could never afford to staff a fire department, Seaman said. The SAFER money could have been used to hire about three full-time responders, but Seaman said that the decision was made to spread the funds throughout the current volunteers. Under the grant, they will earn $10 per hour while on a service call.
The chief also hopes that compensation will help encourage members to aid at all emergency scenes, not just for the bigger fire calls. For example, just a "few guys" might show up to a call for downed wires, Seaman said.
"We hope to see a big difference with people showing up," Seaman said. "It shouldn't matter the call."
The funding will be used to pay firefighters for calls, to advertise for recruitment and to launch a department website, according to Seaman. Funds can also be used to compensate responders who must take off from work to complete training.
The department's projected plan is to add five firefighters and maintain 15 each year, Seaman said.
This is the first year Lakehurst has applied for the SAFER grant, funding that has "a zero cost" to the borough. Other grants may require a 5 to 10 percent payment by the recipient, Seaman said.