Washington, D.C. – At a press conference on May 11, Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Mike DeWine (R-OH) announced the introduction of bipartisan legislation (S. 2411) to reauthorize the popular Assistance to Firefighters Grant program, also known as the FIRE Act, for an additional six years. The program, established in 2000, competitively awards grants directly to local fire departments for the purchase of equipment, training, vehicles, as well as to fund fire prevention and education initiatives. After this current grant cycle, the program will have distributed over $1.1 billion in funding to almost 16,000 fire departments across the country since its inception.
“The Assistance to Firefighters Grant program has proven to be the most effective program to date in providing all fire departments — both large and small, volunteer, career and combination — not only with the tools they need to perform their day-to-day duties, but it has also enhanced their ability to respond to large disasters as well,” said NVFC Executive Director Heather Schafer at the Capitol Hill press conference. “As the federal government assists local fire departments in preparing for terrorist incidents at home, they must first ensure that they have the basic tools they need to do their jobs on a daily basis.”
“The responsibilities of our nation’s firefighters have changed dramatically since the original FIRE Act was enacted,” said Sen. Dodd. “The tragic events of September 11 have required firefighters to shoulder additional homeland security responsibilities. They are literally serving on the front lines of the war against terror on the domestic front. The bipartisan legislation that Senator DeWine and I have authored will give firefighters across America the tools they need to save lives and do their jobs safely.”
“I am pleased that today we are introducing the reauthorization of the FIRE Act Grant Program,” said Sen. DeWine.
“Equipping our fire and EMS squads with the tools they need to improve safety and save lives is the essence of this legislation. By building on the strengths of this program and learning from the past four years, we can increase participation and enhance the ability of fire departments to respond to all types of emergencies.”
Specifically, the legislation:
- Authorizes $900 million for fiscal year 2005, $950 million in fiscal year 2006, and $1 billion annually in fiscal years 2007 through 2010 for the grants program, for a total six-year authorization of $5.85 billion.
- Improves access to the program for departments serving rural communities, and eliminates barriers to participation faced by departments serving heavily populated jurisdictions. Specifically, the bill would:
- Reduce the current local fire department matching requirements from 30% to 20% for departments serving communities of 50,000 or more. For departments serving 20,000 or fewer residents, the local match is reduced from 10% to 5% in order to address extreme budgetary difficulties and encourage increased participation by such departments.
- The current FIRE Act caps grant amounts at $750,000, regardless of the size of the fire department. The reauthorization bill re-structures these caps so that they better reflect the needs and the size of the department. The bill has a ceiling of $2,250,000 for departments serving one million or more, $1,500,000 for departments serving between 500,000 and one million, and $1,000,000 for departments serving fewer than 500,000 residents.
- Focuses resources on life-saving technologies and services by opening the program up to volunteer, non-profit emergency medical service (EMS) providers that serve municipalities with separate fire and EMS departments.
- Tackles the leading cause of firefighter death in the line of duty — heart attacks — by creating an incentive for fire departments to acquire life-saving automated external defibrillator equipment for every first-due emergency vehicle.
- Commissions a comprehensive assessment by the National Fire Protection Association to help identify the areas of greatest need among departments nationwide. The bill also would require the Government Accounting Office (GAO) to report to Congress regarding the effectiveness of the program.
The Assistance to Firefighters Grant program is considered by many as one of the most effective programs in the federal government. A January 31, 2003 report by the federal government found that 99% of participants were satisfied with its ability to meet the needs of their department. In addition, 97% of the participants reported it had “a positive impact on their ability to handle fire and fire-related incidents.” The report concluded that “overall, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program was highly effective in improving the readiness and capabilities of firefighters across the nation.”
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Senators Christopher Dodd and Mike DeWine for their long-time commitment to America’s fire service and to the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program,” added Schafer. “You have both stood with us from the beginning and your leadership does not go unnoticed.”
The bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and has a total of 36 cosponsors. The NVFC strongly supports passage of this legislation. Since, the House and Senate versions of the FIRE Act reauthorization have some differences, the NVFC will work closely with Members of Congress to ensure the final version best meets the needs of its membership.
ACTION: Contact both of your Senators immediately and ask them to become a cosponsor of S. 2411, the Assistance to Firefighters Act of 2004. If you do not know their telephone number or address visit: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/dbq/officials or call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.