Today, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), the bipartisan co-chairs of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, and 9 other House Members introduced H.R. 2269, the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2011,to reauthorize programs that assist firefighters, first responders, and local communities nationwide with the equipment, training, and personnel needed to protect the public from fires and other emergencies.
Fires remain a serious problem in America. More people die in fires in the U.S. than from all other natural disasters combined. On average, 3,600 citizens die in structure fires each year, and over 100 firefighters are killed in the line of duty. In addition to these fatalities, there are thousands of injuries and over $10 billion in property lost each year.
"The FIRE grants provide critical resources to local fire departments, allowing them to maintain the firefighters and equipment that they need. Reauthorization of these programs is even more critical in the face of an unprecedented wildfire season in Texas that has seen more than 12,000 fires burning a staggering 3 million acres since November," said Ranking Member Johnson. "In this tough economy, federal support is even more important as local officials struggle to provide essential services in the face of decreasing budgets. We need to ensure that our firefighters and emergency medical personnel, those who are the first at the scene of an emergency, have the tools they need to keep us safe."
"This legislation is imperative to providing first responders with the necessary capabilities and equipment to protect our communities from a variety of threats and dangers," said Congressman Peter King (R-NY).
H.R. 2269 reauthorizes the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program which expired in FY 2009 and FY 2010 respectively. The AFG program provides funds to local fire departments to purchase equipment, vehicles, and training. The SAFER program helps fire departments hire firefighting personnel to meet voluntary national consensus standards on safe minimum staffing levels. Both the AFG and SAFER programs are administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The bill authorizes $1 billion for the AFG program per fiscal year from FY2012 to FY2016, and an additional $1.194 billion per fiscal year from FY2012 to FY2016 for the SAFER program.
Additionally, the legislation makes some changes to the current programs to make it easier for local fire departments to take advantage of AFG and SAFER funding, such as lowering the matching requirements for the AFG program and modifying the time and matching commitments for the SAFER program.
Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) authored the F.I.R.E. (Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement) Act, which became law in 2000. The law established the only federal program that delivers grant dollars directly to fire departments. The program, now titled the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG), is administered by the Department of Homeland Security. The nation's 32,000 career, volunteer and combination fire departments can apply for federal grants to purchase the equipment, training, and vehicles needed to serve their communities. In 2003, Rep. Pascrell sponsored legislation creating the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant program to provide federal support for staffing of local fire departments.
"Many local governments continue to face tough budget decisions, and it is unfortunate that cuts to their public safety services are even considered,' said Pascrell. "This reauthorization makes many important improvements to the AFG and SAFER programs that will allow local fire departments to continue to obtain the basic staff and equipment needed to keep the people they serve as safe as possible."
Congressman David Reichert (R-WA) said, "As a co-chair of the Fire Services Caucus, I am proud to support the renewal of important programs that help our nation's first responders safely and effectively protect our families," said Reichert. "This legislation was crafted in careful consultation with leading firefighters' organizations and provides necessary support to both career and volunteer firefighters. A similar proposal passed the House last Congress with my support, and I remain committed to doing all I can to ensure local firehouses are able to recruit staff, retain firefighters, and provide excellent service to citizens."
The bill reflects fire-service stakeholder input and is supported by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the National Volunteer Fire Council, the National Fire Protection Association, and the Congressional Fire Services Institute. The bill is nearly identical to legislation that was unanimously passed out of the Science and Technology Committee in the 111th Congress and then passed overwhelmingly by the House on November 18, 2009 by a vote of 395 -- 31, but never made it out of the Senate.
Original cosponsors of the Fire Grants Act include: Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Rep. Bill Pascrell, Rep. Peter King, Rep. David Reichert, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Rep. Steven LaTourette, Rep. Robert Andrews, Rep. Mark Critz, Rep. David Wu, Rep. Ben Ray Luján, Rep. Daniel Lipinski, Rep. Hansen Clarke, Rep. John Sarbanes, Rep. Michael Michaud, and Rep. Michael Grimm.