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Providing for Consideration of Conference Report on H.R. 4310, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON of Texas. Let me thank the ranking member and chairman of the Rules Committee.

Today, I rise to discuss just one portion of the National Defense Authorization Act. It is a section of the conference report that supports our Nation's first responders, and I signed the conference report for that section only.

In July of last year, I introduced legislation to reauthorize two programs--the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, the AFG Program, and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Program, the SAFER Program. These programs were created to help local fire departments across the country maintain and increase their capacity to do all that we ask them to do each day, including fighting fires, responding to medical emergencies, and providing safety and aid in the face of disasters, either natural or manmade.

Maintaining the equipment, training, and personnel to safely and swiftly respond to calls for assistance is increasingly difficult. Fire departments around the country have been forced to lay off firefighters and to do without needed equipment and training. The fire grant programs have played an important role in helping local fire departments overcome some of these challenges, providing over $6 billion in assistance since the year 2000. These grants have been essential to maintaining public safety in many communities, and they're even more important in the face of our shrinking local budgets.

Fire is a serious problem in the United States, killing over 3,000 people a year, which is a rate higher than in all other industrialized countries. Additionally, each year, nearly 20,000 people are injured, over 100 firefighters are killed in the line of duty, and $10 billion in property is lost due to fire.

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Ms. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON of Texas. Thank you very much.

In my State of Texas, 2011 was an especially destructive year, with 4 million acres burned, over 5,500 homes and structures destroyed, and hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss just one portion of the National Defense Authorization Act--a section of the conference report that supports our nation's first responders. In July of last year, I introduced legislation to reauthorize two programs--the Assistance for Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program. These programs were created to help local fire departments across the country maintain and increase their capacity to do all that we ask of them each day, including fighting fires, responding to medical emergencies, and providing safety and aid in the face of disasters either natural or man-made.

Maintaining the equipment, training, and personnel to safely and swiftly respond to calls for assistance is increasingly difficult. Fire departments around the country have been forced to lay off firefighters and to do without needed equipment and training. The fire grant programs have played an important role in helping local fire departments overcome some of these challenges, providing over $6 billion in assistance since 2000. These grants have been essential to maintaining public safety in many communities and they are even more important in the face of shrinking local budgets.

Fire is a serious problem in the United States, killing over 3,000 people a year--a rate higher than all other industrialized countries. Additionally, each year nearly 20,000 people are injured, over 100 firefighters are killed in the line of duty, and $10 billion in property is lost due to fire. In my State of Texas, 2011 was an especially destructive year with 4 million acres burned, over 5,500 homes and structures destroyed, and hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

Statistics show that minorities and low-income Americans are disproportionately the victims of fires. In addition to providing the resources necessary to ensure our fire departments have the equipment and personnel they need, the United States Fire Administration, which is also reauthorized in the conference report, supports fire prevention and safety activities, promotes the professional development of the fire and emergency response community, and conducts research, testing, and evaluation to help reduce fire deaths, injuries, and loss.

We need to ensure that our firefighters and emergency medical personnel have the tools that they need to protect us. Reauthorization of the fire grant programs and the United States Fire Administration will do just that.

The good news is that, even in these times of increasing partisanship, these common sense provisions have once again garnered widespread support. I am pleased that the bipartisan co-chairs of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus have joined me in supporting the reauthorization of these critical programs. As the Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, which has jurisdiction over these programs, I hope the rest of my colleagues will join us in supporting these provisions.

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