ELGIN, Ill. (STMW) – The Elgin Fire Department added almost a third of a million dollars in federal grant money to its budget that it will use to hire firefighters.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, awarded the $327,557 grant to the Elgin Fire Department for “recruitment initiatives aimed at increasing the number of frontline firefighters.”

“Our nation’s firefighters are called upon day after day to protect America’s citizens,” Durbin said in a press release. “As these brave men and women put themselves in harm’s way, we must ensure that they are equipped with the best resources possible to do their jobs well and that fire departments have enough trained firefighters.”

Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy said the money will go toward salaries and benefits of two yet-to-be-hired firefighters for two years. The new hires will fill openings from four recent retirements.

Fahy said the department is authorized to have 133 firefighters and has 129. To bring the department to full strength, two other firefighters eventually will be hired in addition to the two covered by the grant money.

“The timing of this is perfect. It takes the pressure off the general fund for awhile,” Fahy said.

Fahy noted that the grant process involved making it through three rounds or vetting and that it took a combined, interdepartmental effort to secure the funding.

According to the release, the funding is provided through the 2010 fiscal year and comes from the DHS “Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response” (SAFER) program.

In 2009, eight fire departments in Illinois were awarded more than $2.4 million in federal SAFER funding to hire and recruit additional firefighters. In the 2010 fiscal year, the program will award about $420 million nationwide in competitive grants to fire departments and statewide or local firefighter interest groups.

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