Fed Bill To Fund Firefighters Passes House
MARC LA VORGNA
Office of U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ, 8th)
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell today joined colleagues in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate to announce the inclusion of the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Resources) Act as an amendment in the final version of the Fiscal Year 2004 National Defense Authorization, which passed the House of Representatives today.
The Senate could approve the bill early next week. It would then go to the White House and President Bush for his signature.
The SAFER Act of 2003 amends the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974 to require the establishment of an office within the United States Fire Administration to administer a grant program to make direct four-year grants to State career, volunteer, and combination fire departments for staff increases.
The Safer Act authorizes The Administrator of the U.S. Fire Administration to award $7.6 billion over seven years in annual grants for the purpose of hiring, recruiting and retaining career and volunteer firefighters to help communities meet industry minimum standards and attain 24-hour staffing to provide adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards, including acts of terrorism.
Ten percent of the total amount appropriated for SAFER are reserved for Recruitment and Retention Grants to enhance the number of volunteer firefighters and at least ten percent of the remaining funds are guaranteed for hiring firefighters at volunteer and majority volunteer departments. Any unused amounts are transferred to the Recruitment and Retention Grants.
Grants will be awarded directly to career, volunteer and combination fire departments on the basis of need, modeled after the highly successful Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE Act) Grant Program.
No fire department who accepts funds under this Act may penalize or discriminate against firefighters who chose to volunteer in other jurisdictions during off-duty hours.
SAFER Hiring Grants will last for a period of four years and will be increasingly matched by local dollars to wean local governments from being dependent upon the federal government. Departments must commit to retaining newly acquired firefighters for one year past the termination of the grant. Employment applications must also specify long-term plans for retaining newly attained firefighters.
The total four year grant for hiring a firefighter may not exceed $100,000; adjusted annually. Authority for the grant program sunsets after 10 years from the date of enactment. SAFER Hiring Grant funds must not be used to supplant existing federal, State or local resources.
"We used the Department of Defense Authorization as a vehicle to pass the SAFER Act, which authorizes money for personnel for fire departments throughout the country,” Pascrell said. ”The $7.6 billion has been authorized. Of course, when all is said and done, much less could be appropriated also. Money authorized and money eventually appropriated are two different things. For example, the FIRE Act has been authorized at $900 million, but was appropriated at $750 million this year."
Pascrell was an original cosponsor of the legislation and was the lead House Democrat supporting the SAFER act, which was sponsored by House Committee on Science Chairman, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY, 24th).
"My original draft of the FIRE Act tried to get more firefighters into uniform. The program has been a landmark success, but in order to get the legislation passed, the staffing component had to unfortunately be removed," stated Pascrell. "We are all here to address this omission."
"The dangerous crisis of inadequate staffing in our nation's fire departments is finally being confronted head-on-at a time when it is more crucial than ever.
"Adequate staffing is essential to safe and effective emergency operations-I know of no one who would attempt to refute this. The firefighters whose bravery and valor protect our nation deserve all that we can give them. The consequences of insufficient personnel levels often lead to tragic, heartbreaking results-and it is a moral imperative that Congress addresses this issue and it has finally happened.
"I have been honored to work with my colleagues on the SAFER Act and I wish to thank all of our nation's firefighters for everything they do."
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I have posted my feelings on this boondogle and the misrepresentation of this program but it seems that it may come to fruition.
Personally, federal funding of public safety is an innapropriate use of tax dollars, yes I feel the same about the COPS grants for police. Why not reduce the federal tax burden an equal amount and allow for the local community to provide for appropriate staffing by the use of the money?
The COPS grants "put 100,000 new police officers on the streets" is used to provide for the justification of this program. However, the communities hired these "new" officers and as officers retired, they were simply not replaced leaving staffing at the same level. I personally feel that this same situation will occur with this firefighter bill not helping out staffing levels at all in the long run.