A throng of firefighters gathered at the Hamilton Elks Lodge on Kuser Road today to fete U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (Robbinsville, N.J.) for his work to protect the jobs of Trenton firefighters over the past four years by helping to secure two key grants worth over $28 million and heading off massive layoffs.
At the surprise event, Smith was presented with a white fire chief's helmet with a broad badge that read "Congressman" and an engraved name placard below it that read "Chris Smith." He also enjoyed a buffet lunch with the firefighters.
The first $13.6 million FY2010 SAFER grant Smith helped obtain saved 61 jobs during 2011-2012. The second amounted to $14.9 million in FY2012, and saved 55 jobs for 2013-2014, and also helped hire nine entry-level firefighters to replace retired firefighters, for a total of 64 positions. Both came through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER). The grants are administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in cooperation with the U.S. Fire Administration.
Smith, who represented the City of Trenton from 1981-2012 until congressional redistricting removed it, had personally met with firefighters, made calls to the highest grant officials at FEMA, and sent letters of support detailing the capital of New Jersey's great need. Many of the firefighters still hail from towns in Smith's district, including Hamilton, Robbinsville, Allentown and other towns.
"Trenton firefighters faced widespread layoffs, and I feel strongly about the importance of maintaining staffing levels needed to protect city residents and the State capital," said Smith, a long-time member of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus.
Grant committee members John Gribbin, Mark Robotin, and Lisa Willever expressed appreciation to Congressman Smith and his office, both locally and in Washington D.C., for their efforts in support of the grants.
"I am honored by your expression of gratitude," said Smith. "Firefighters are the ones who run into burning buildings when all others are running out. Firefighters are the ones who deserve a thank you."
SAFER grants provide assistance to fire departments to increase the number of frontline firefighters. The goal is for fire departments to increase their staffing and deployment capabilities and help provide communities with adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards. The SAFER program supports several critical activities, such as the rehiring of laid off firefighters, the retention of firefighters facing layoffs, the hiring of new firefighters, and recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters. Grants are used to pay the salaries and benefits of firefighters hired with grant funds over the two-year award performance period.