The top-rated Fire Department will hold an academy to hire 35 new firefighters, Mayor-President Kip Holden and Fire Chief Ed Smith announced Wednesday morning.

It will be the first academy for the department since February 2009 and bring the total number of firefighters on staff up to about 570, Smith said.

Smith said the additional staff will relieve some of the burden on the department’s firefighters, who have been forced to work overtime to cover the shortages.

“This is an exciting day in the Baton Rouge Fire Department,” he said.

Funding to pay for the new firefighters will come from about $1.1 million from the city-parish general fund and $343,000 from the Fire Enhancement Fund, which comes from an existing millage collected by the Fire Department.

Holden said the general fund money comes from savings earned from having more vacancies in the department than projected.

After the new recruits are hired, there will still be at least 40 vacancies to be filled.

But the number of vacancies is expected to grow by at least 12 because of planned retirements, Fire Department spokesman Barry Mounce said.

Holden said the city-parish is also pursuing a federal grant that could pay for a second academy next year to hire 40 more firefighters.

The 22-week academy will begin in November, Smith said.

Holden said Baton Rouge Fire Department has had the longest running No. 1 rating in the country.

“That translates into lower insurance costs for homeowners and businesses,” Holden said.

Mounce said the Fire Department has held the No. 1 rating since 1980, which is designated by the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana.

The rating is based on such department features as manpower, number of stations, types of training and the water system used, Mounce said.

Holden said the city-parish is lucky to be adding emergency service personnel at a time when other cities are being forced to cut.

“Many cities across America have been confronted with shrinking budgets,” he said. “They’ve had to lay off first responders, police, fire, EMS.”

Last month, Holden announced the Baton Rouge Police Department would also hold an academy to train 24 new officers, which will be its first academy since 2009.