Firehouse.com’s editorial staff has rounded up a list of 2009’s biggest issues and events. Share your top memories and biggest issues by commenting below.
The recession held center stage in 2009 as departments around the country saw budget shortfalls, layoffs and station closures. Some of these cutbacks provoked local controversy. In one notable July instance, Boston firefighters refused to leave three stations that were placed under a “brown out” and defiantly continued to staff them while officially off-duty.
The issue of funding pervaded the fire service and forced many leaders to focus on solutions: how to cut costs without cutting safety, and how to find creative and alternative funding sources.
The Fire Act and SAFER grants underwent some revisions this year in reaction to the economic climate, sparking some controversy in the process.
In November the House passed a measure reauthorizing the programs, and setting aside $1B for the Assistance to Firefighters Grants and $1.2M for SAFER annually through 2014.
The bill includes the establishment of a survey to determine whether departments are adhering to safety practices; OKs funds for river rescue operations; and authorizes grant money to be spent for equipment that conserves water.
It also includes the creation of a task force comprised of members from fire service organizations to make recommendations to Congress on ways to increase compliance with those firefighter safety standards. That amendment was debated, but eventually passed.
The measure now goes to the Senate for its consideration, and then a committee work session to resolve any differences.
For the SAFER grants, three significant differences have been implemented for the 2010 awards, all of which were made possible because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), according to the DHS.
The biggest change is there is no prescribed cost-share for recipients. In years past, communities awarded were expected to provide a percentage of the cost of the new hires.
Other significant changes outlined in the 54-page guidelines document include: a provision that says there are no annual salary limits for employees; a provision that says grantees that hire laid off firefighters do not have to commit to retaining the SAFER-funded firefighters; and a change in the provision regarding the period of performance which has been reduced for hiring grants from four years to two years.
Firefighters and burn survivors descended on the International Code Council's annual conference in October to vote to keep residential sprinklers on the books. The council had been considering a request from the nation's home builders to kill a requirement that all new homes have sprinklers by 2011, which was voted down by a majority of its members. Two other provisions -- which sought to weaken the mandate -- also were voted down.
The growing prevalence of video on the fire scene and around the firehouse created new ethical and legal dilemmas this year.
In a world of helmet cams, cell phones and other mini recording devices, as well as vast and instant distribution tools like YouTube, fire departments are increasingly having to consider the benefits and liabilities of such material.