(Washington, DC) —Today, the House of Representatives voted 395 to 31 to approve H.R. 3791, The Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2009, a bill that updates two key programs that provide critical resources to local fire departments. The bill reauthorizes the Assistance to Firefighter Grant (AFG) program and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program.
“Over the past nine years, these programs have provided over $5 billion to purchase firefighting equipment and training and for communities to hire additional firefighters,” said Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN). “This federal support for public safety is even more important in this tough economy as local officials struggle to provide services in the face of decreasing budgets. The provisions in this bill make several changes to the program to enable more fire departments to apply for grants, and to ensure that the programs can benefit all types of communities, from small towns to our largest cities.”
“At a time when many local governments are facing major budget shortfalls and cuts in services, federal support to fire departments is critical to public safety,” said Technology and Innovation Subcommittee Chairman David Wu (D-OR). “Funding from the AFG and SAFER programs has played a vital role in improving the readiness and capabilities of fire departments across the nation by helping provide the equipment and staff they need.”
“Whether it’s putting out a house fire or a wildfire – or responding to a terrorist attack or a car accident – we depend on firefighters every day,” said bill author Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ). “But firefighters also depend on us. They depend on the public and their elected officials to make sure that they have the resources, the equipment and the training they need to do their job. Without those tools, we put them and all of us at unnecessary risk. This legislation reauthorizes two programs that provide critical resources to fire departments across the country. This bill also makes several key improvements to these programs to assist the cities and towns in Arizona and across the country which are facing major budget shortfalls and cuts in service.”
The AFG program was created by Congress in 2000 because of concerns that local budgets were unable to handle the mounting responsibilities being assigned to the fire service. It provides funds to local fire departments to purchase equipment, vehicles, and training. Congress created the SAFER program in 2004 to help fire departments hire firefighting personnel and 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 FY2010 to FY2014 and apportions the AFG funding between the career, volunteer, and combination fire departments according to a formula that authorizes a minimum of 25 percent of each year’s total AFG dollars for each type of department. The bill authorizes an additional $1.2 billion per fiscal year from FY2010 to FY2014 for the SAFER program.
“The reauthorization makes several changes to enable more fire departments to apply for grants, and to ensure that the programs can benefit all types of communities, from small towns to our largest cities,” said Gordon.
The legislation makes some changes to the program 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.
“This bill is the product of much hard work 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, and has been endorsed by all of these groups,” said Gordon.
This bill passed the Technology and Innovation Subcommittee on October 14th, and the Full Committee on October 21st. The Subcommittee held a hearing on July 8th.