Detroit Firefighters Layoffs Curbed Due To Federal SAFER Grant, More Help On The Way

Detroit firefighters are used to rescuing other people, but this time they're the ones getting a helping hand.

164 firefighters had been facing layoffs due to cuts made public last month. Now, 100 of their jobs will be saved thanks to a $22.5 million grant given last week from the federal government -- and more help could be on the way.

U.S. Rep. Hansen Clark (D-Detroit) presented the multi-million dollar check from from the Department of Homeland Security's Security's Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program to Detroit Fire Commissioner Donald Austin Friday afternoon.

The funding will save the jobs of 108 firefighters who were scheduled to be let go by the end of this month.

Mayor Bing had expected the jobs would be saved by the Grant when he made the announcement about the layoffs in June.

"This is probably the best news I've had since I've been here," Austin told the Detroit Free Press. "This is going to be the beginning of a lot of change that will help the city and the residents and certainly the members of my department."

Congressman Clarke is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to expedite the official payment of the grant, which was delayed due to a communication issue between the city and the federal government. Detroit should be eligible to receive the money this week. The money will be paid in installments over the next two years.

The congressman is on the Homeland Security subcommittee which oversees the grant and sponsored a congressional hearing in Detroit last year to help secure funding. Through an amendment to a bill he was able to increase the grants funding by $5 million. According to Clarke, the city has applied for the grant in the past, but this is the first time it has been approved.

"This is a huge victory for Detroit to be able to save these firefighter jobs, but it's important that we also get more resources for our Fire Department, our emergency first responders and our police officers," he told the Huffington Post.

Clarke is trying to secure further more SAFER funding to save the jobs of the remaining firefighters facing layoffs. Although the money comes from competitive grants, the he hopes to receive the additional funding by September. The Detroit Free Press reports the department also filed an Assistance to Firefighters grant on Friday.

He said the money is sorely needed in Detroit because the city's foreclosure crisis has exacerbated the risk of fires in the city while diminishing its tax base.

"It's grave because more homes that have been going into foreclosure are vacant now and more prone to be set on fire. The city's in a bind," he said, "They don't have the revenue to pay for these firefighters because of these vacant houses."

Clarke also hopes that an amendment he introduced to the 2013 Transportation-HUD appropriations bill passed by the House in June will help reduce the risk of fires in the city. The measure would increases Homeless Assistance Grants by $5 million to renovate vacant buildings and provide housing for the homeless. He expects Detroit will receive funding for the program, if the bill becomes law.