Washington, D.C. – On October 2, E. James Monihan, NVFC Delaware Director and Past NVFC Chairman, testified before the House Science Committee to discuss H.R. 3992, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters (SAFER) Act and H.R. 4548, a bill to reauthorize the FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.
The SAFER Act authorizes the U.S. Fire Administrator to make grants to States, local governments, Indian tribal governments, other public entities, to hire additional career firefighters. H.R. 4548, introduced by Basic Research Subcommittee Chairman Nick Smith (R-MI), is very similar to the current authorizing language for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program that was included in the FY 2002 Defense Authorization bill (Public Law 107-107). However, Mr. Smith’s bill strengthens the United States Fire Administration’s oversight of the program, mandates the current peer review process, and adds support for volunteer training as one of the purposes for which a fire department may request money.
The NVFC spoke in favor of both pieces of legislation.
During the hearing, Monihan eloquently stated the case for continued support of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, keeping the grants a separate program under the U.S. Fire Administration, federal funding for both hiring firefighters and the recruitment and retention of volunteers, and for ensuring the rights of career firefighters to volunteer in their local communities during off-duty hours.
“Any initiative by Congress to address the personnel shortfall in the fire service needs to include a significant recruitment and retention component to account for the more than 90% of America’s communities protected by volunteers,” said Monihan. “The recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel has become the number one challenge facing America’s volunteer fire service.”
Some possible solutions that Monihan included in his testimony were: funding for national and local recruitment campaigns; tax credits and deductions for volunteers; funding for length of service award programs and other pension programs for volunteers; incentives for employers to allow employees, who are volunteers, time off for training or emergency calls; tuition assistance for higher education and increased proliferation of on-line training on-demand for volunteers.
The Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), a long-time friend of the fire service, also called upon the following witnesses to provide expert testimony:
- Mr. William Antilla
Director of Maritime Science and Fire Science, Clatsop (OR) Community College
- Chief Randy Bruegman
President, International Association of Fire Chiefs
- Chief David James
Weedsport (NY) Fire Department
- Mr. Steve Williams
President, Houston Professional Firefighters Association
To view a Webcast of the hearing and read all of the testimony, go to: http://www.house.gov/science/hearings/full02/index.htm.