The Beverly City Council voted unanimously this week to approve a $556,000 grant for the Beverly Fire Department to hire four new firefighters, in turn boosting the department's staff, which has been insufficiently low for several years.
The new recruits will work for two years. If veterans are hired, they are eligible to apply for a waiver to work an additional year.
Ward 2 City Councillor Wes Slate said the entire Council is pleased with the decision.
"It was certainly a no-brainer," Slate said. "It's good news all around."
The grant, which was submitted to the city in August 2012, covers salaries and benefits for three years.
"It's great," said Deputy Chief Peter O'Connor, who handles the department's grants. "We've been running fairly short of people for a long time. This is going to put more firefighters on the street which won't only just make things safer for us, but it'll make the city safer."
O'Connor added that the department has lost between 12 and 16 positions since 2001 and has since relied heavily on mutual aid from neighboring cities and towns.
The department is going through the state civil service merit system to hire its new firefighters. The "wheels have been set in motion," O'Connor said, and the department has 90 days from July 5 to recruit the new employees.
The department currently has 60 firefighters on staff, according to Chief Paul Cotter.
The loss of staff is mainly due to taxes and budget cuts, Cotter said.
"Everyone has felt the pinch and doing more with less," Cotter said. "Add that to public safety and it's hard to be efficient. It's dangerous. We're trying to do everything we used to do with 15 guys, but now with 10."
Cotter added that surrounding towns with similar-sized populations have far more firefighters than Beverly.
Salem, which has around the same number of residents, has 84 firefighters and will add four more by January. Peabody, which has about 10,000 more residents than Beverly, has 104 firefighters.
"It came to the point where we couldn't lose anyone else or we'd have to shut down another station, which would just be ridiculous," Cotter said. "Just those three extra people on duty is a huge difference. Even one more body helps."
After the 90-day period, the firefighters will go through a two-week training and then go to the state firefighting academy.