Charleston Trims Fire Department Staffing, Training Budget

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Citing a 2008 budget that overestimated the costs for new firefighters and an expanded training unit, the City of Charleston will reduce the fire department budget for staffing and training by more than $150,000 next year.

After the Sofa Super Store blaze killed nine firefighters in 2007, an independent report called on the city to increase the number of firefighters and create a more comprehensive training program. The city added 32 new positions to the department between '07 and '08 and invested $500,000 in hiring a larger training crew and providing fresh education resources.

But the $13.23 million the city had budgeted for staff and training in 2008 turned out to be more than was actually necessary, says Steve Bedard, the city's chief financial officer.

"There were a lot of changes coming rather quickly," he says. "We just over budgeted."

The 2009 budget puts those costs at $13.07 million — and that includes hiring 12 additional firefighters next fall. The city is increasing the department's budget for other things, including radio and safey supplies, counseling services, and vehicle repairs. The city is also committing nearly $272,000 to match a likely FEMA grant for various equipment.

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