Auburn, NY - Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) recently brought the House Science Committee to Auburn and held a hearing at which local fire departments testified that a federal program that Boehlert is seeking to renew has been a great help to upstate New York.
In addition to the local fire departments, the Committee heard from R. David Paulison, the head of the U.S. Fire Administration and a top official in the Department of Homeland Security.
In opening the hearing, Boehlert noted, "Today's hearing will focus on an issue that is critical to all of us: ensuring that firefighters and first responders have the resources they need to help protect us from a variety of threats. Firefighters, whether paid or volunteer, guard our lives with their lives. They devote themselves to their communities day after day after day - usually outside the limelight. They deserve our help, but when we help firefighters, we're not being altruistic or magnanimous. After all, we're the real beneficiaries. Grants to fire departments make all of us safer."
The grant program that Boehlert helped create and is now seeking to renew, generally known as the FIRE grant program, provided more than $4 million in assistance to fire departments in the 24th Congressional District last year alone. Dozens of local communities have received funding through the FIRE program including, Auburn, Aurelius, Cortland, Geneva, Mohawk, New Hartford, Rome, Seneca Falls, Utica, and Whitesboro. The program provides competitively awarded, peer-reviewed grants directly to fire departments -- both paid and volunteer -- for the purchase of equipment, training, and vehicles. The program is due to expire at the end of September and renewal of the program is a top priority for New York's fire service organizations. Boehlert has introduced legislation to renew the program.
Paulison hailed the FIRE grant program as a model, which "in its short three-year existence has provided a tremendous amount of equipment, training and educational programs across the nation." He added, "As of June 9, 2004, FEMA has processed more than 30,000 grants payments totaling more than $800 million for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program from fiscal year (FY) 2001 to FY 2003."
Chief Michael Quill of the Auburn Fire Department told the Committee that FIRE grants have been instrumental in helping New York fire departments purchase needed equipment. Quill said, "The FIRE Act, as it stands, is probably one of the best things to happen to the fire service. Without it, my brother and sister firefighters would not have the proper tools to complete their hazardous duties. These grants go directly to the fire departments where needed, not to another layer of bureaucracy where it is whittled down." Quill testified that the Auburn Fire Department received a $180,000 FIRE grant last year that "was used to purchase personal protective gear, self-contained breathing apparatus, and radios. All items necessary for firefighter safety."
"In fiscal year 2003, the Aurelius Fire Department was fortunate to be awarded $119,804 in round seventeen of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program," said Aurelius firefighter and training officer David Perkins. "The Aurelius Fire Department has benefited greatly from receiving this grant in several ways." He explained that the department used the grant funds to upgrade its breathing apparatus and communications equipment.
Brian McQueen, Chief of the Whitesboro Volunteer Fire Department, testified on the impact the FIRE grant program has had on volunteer fire departments. He said, "The volunteer service here in Central New York and around the state needs this grant to survive. This grant is needed so that we can adhere to the mandates placed upon us as volunteer fire department administrators as well as enhancing the safety of not only our firefighters, but our residents as well."
McQueen continued, "I want to thank Congress and especially our Congressman Sherwood Boehlert, who has continually fought for the volunteers of our county and Central New York to make sure that they have what other departments have around the nation. Congressman Boehlert is an advocate for the volunteer fire service and knows the importance of protecting lives, homes and businesses as a positive way of serving in a society that is constantly changing."
Boehlert's reauthorization legislation would expand the FIRE Act to provide funding eligibility to Emergency Medical Service (EMS) responders not affiliated with a fire department. Pat DiNonno, the fire coordinator and director of the Office of Emergency Management for Cayuga County, endorsed Boehlert's proposed expansion of the FIRE Act for EMS. Non-affiliated EMS providers in Cayuga County that would become eligible for funding under Boehlert's bill include Southern Cayuga Ambulance, CIMVAC and Fair Haven Ambulance.
Prior to this hearing, Chairman Boehlert received a special recognition award from the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) in appreciation of his longtime advocacy in Congress for volunteer firefighters. Presenting the award on behalf of the NVFC was James Williams.
Williams said, "Congressman Boehlert has been a steadfast supporter of volunteer firefighters throughout his career. From his co-founding of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus to his chairmanship of the Science Committee, firefighters have no greater friend in Congress than Congressman Sherwood Boehlert. On behalf of the NVFC, I am delighted to present him with this award."
This Science Committee field hearing is the second that Boehlert has held in Central New York since becoming chair of the Science Committee in 2001. In 2002, he convened a hearing at Utica College that examined homeland security and cybersecurity vulnerabilities facing New York State. Witnesses at that hearing included the President's science advisor, the director of the White House Office of Critical Infrastructure Assurance, top New York State officials, and Michael Miravalle, President and CEO of Dolphin Technologies in Rome.