Higgins Fights For Continuation of Federal Fire Grants
At a meeting of the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) offered an amendment to H.R. 3116, the Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act to authorize an increase in funding for the successful federal fire grant programs. The vote on the amendment was split along party lines with 14 in favor and 19 opposed.
The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant (SAFER) programs have expired. Current funding for firefighter support programs are less than half of what firefighter groups believe is necessary. The Higgins Amendment would have authorized funding up to the amount recommended by those groups, $1.194 billion for SAFER and $1 billion for AFG. It also makes changes to current program to make it easier for local fire departments to use the grants.
Higgins presented the following testimony in support of the fire grant program amendment:
“Mr. Chairman, we know that properly trained and adequately equipped firefighters save lives. It is our job to help provide the funding necessary to ensure that firefighters have proper training and adequate equipment so they can continue to save those in harm’s way and stay safe as they risk their lives to save others.
“As we commemorated the 10th anniversary of September 11, we were reminded of the heroism of the firefighters who raced up the Twin Towers and into the Pentagon to save the lives of those unable to escape. Although those firefighters honored their commitment to the communities they served, faulty equipment failed them and resulted in the death or severe injury of many first responders.
“Today, new technologies exist for lighter breathing apparatus and other life-saving equipment to improve firefighter’s capabilities and prepare our nation to respond to man-made and natural disasters. Now that this technology exists, we must ensure that our first responders have access to it and that our communities have the well-trained first responders to use it. The Assistance to Firefighters and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant programs are critical to achieving these objectives.
“The Assistance to Firefighters, or “FIRE”, grant allows communities to purchase life-saving safety equipment – from personal protective gear to breathing apparatus – for firefighters.
“The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or “SAFER”, grant provides funding for fire departments across the nation to rehire thousands of fire fighters who were laid off due to budget reductions on the local level.
“These programs have been extraordinarily successful in helping to equip and staff fire departments across my community of Western New York. My amendment, based on a bill introduced by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and strongly supported on a bi-partisan basis by Chairman King and Rep. Bill Pascrell, would reauthorize these vital grants.
“As our nation continues to face the threat of terrorist attacks, and communities across the country have cut their fire department budgets in the wake of the economic crisis, the FIRE and SAFER grant programs are more important than ever. These programs are not only essential to achieving our emergency preparedness goals, they do so in a cost-effective manner. Both programs are among the most efficient federal grant programs, scored as “effective” by an Office of Management and Budget analysis.
“According to a recent assessment by the US Fire Service, with the help of these grant programs, we have made significant progress in providing our first responders the equipment necessary to respond to man-made and natural disasters. But we can do more and we must do better. That same US Fire Service assessment reported that over half of all fire departments cannot equip all firefighters on a shift with self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Nearly half of all fire departments that are responsible for structural firefighting have not provided all of their personnel with the appropriate formal training. And over half of all fire departments do not have enough portable radios to equip all emergency responders on a shift. These findings are unacceptable.
“The need for effective first responders is growing, not shrinking. The FIRE and SAFE grant programs are essential to ensure that our firefighters are prepared to handle to whatever they encounter when they respond to a call. I am pleased to have the opportunity to offer this important amendment, and would like to express my appreciation for Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson’s work on this important issue. I urge my colleagues to support this amendment”
Congressman Higgins is a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security and its subcommittees on Border and Maritime Security & Counterterrorism and Intelligence. As a representative of the Western New York community adjacent to Southern Ontario, he has placed particular focus on northern border issues. He also serves as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressional Northern Border Caucus and the U.S. Canada Interparlementary Exchange.