WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today the House passed a measure reauthorizing the FIRE Act grant programs.
The bill sets aside $1B for AFG and $1.2M for SAFER annually through 2014.
The legislation, which passed by a 395-31 vote, includes the establishment of a survey to determine if 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.
U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Col., said some of the more than 100 firefighter deaths annually are preventable, and it’s important to know if departments are complying with national voluntary standards established by the NFPA.
He said since the federal government has dedicated both time and money to fire departments, he wants to know if they are adhering to the standards or recommendations.
"It's good for the firefighters and the communities," he said.
U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, however, said there are more than 25,000 different departments across the country, and many face unique circumstances.
He also questioned where the money would come from to pay for the survey. He worried that funds would be taken way from fire departments.
Legislators say they foresee the USFA including the information along with its periodic census; and collecting the data electronically will save money.
Smith called the USFA "cash-strapped."
Also, Congressman Tim Holden, D-Pa., spoke of the importance of organizations providing river rescue services to be eligible to receive grant money.
He said he was surprised to learn that the Harrisburg River Rescue Association that responds to incidents on the Susquehanna River was not eligible to receive money for its operations.
There was no debate on his amendment, which passed in early afternoon.
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., proposed an amendment that would allow grants to be used for equipment that reduces water use in firefighting.
This amendment also passed without debate.
"This will provide fire departments with the opportunity to not only purchase equipment that is not only effective in fighting fires, but that also is efficient in water usage," she said. "By allowing this, we are making it possible for firefighters to fight fires in a safer way and also use less water."
Titus said that after talking to Clark County Fire Chief Steven Smith, she learned that with the proper equipment, departments can use 80 percent less water while fighting fires, saving water, money and preventing further damage to structures.
Also passed was an amendment that prohibits earmarking of funds appropriated under the Act.
Other members of Congress made their voices heard while the floor was open. U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., raised concerns that the purpose of the FIRE Act program has been manipulated since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"The program predates the horrific events of September 11 and was never meant to be a preparedness program, but DHS made it one," he said. "In recent years, I've been concerned by news reports and have even met with small departments that couldn't get approved for a grant because they couldn't show a connection to terror.
"Our terror threat in northern Minnesota is fire. Our terror is blizzards, tornadoes and floods. Those are the things we get and need to be prepared for."
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, shared her plans to join with other members of Congress to study trends surrounding serial arsonists so that steps can be taken to prevent and combat such crimes.
"Over the last three months, we've had 17 fires, putting the lives of firefighters in jeopardy," she said of recent incidents affecting her district.