Fire service leaders lobby Congress for critical funding approval


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Prominent figures in the fire service gathered on Capitol Hill to plead for the approval of federal funding crucial to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) and key fire grant programs that safeguard communities nationwide.

Organisations, including the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), implored the US House of Representatives to renew funding for the USFA, as well as the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant and Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) programs. The approval of these funding provisions, which are instrumental to fire safety investment, is a required step in Congress’s annual budgeting process.

The funding lifeline for both SAFER and AFG programs will cease by the fiscal year-end without congressional approval. The House Subcommittee on Research and Technology conducted a hearing to discuss future funding prospects for the USFA and its associated grant programs, during which leading fire service officials exhorted lawmakers to fully commit to bolstering public safety nationwide.

Kevin O’Connor, Assistant to the General President For Governmental Affairs and Political Action, voiced the sentiments of his colleagues at the hearing, stating: “Every fire fighter takes an oath to protect their communities to the best of their abilities, and we hold that oath sacred. We ask the U.S. Congress to have our backs and not make our jobs even more dangerous by failing to invest in the staffing, training, and equipment we need. Our safety rests in your hands.”

AFG grants are crucial for providing the necessary funding for essential equipment, protective gear, emergency vehicles, training, and other resources, thereby ensuring the safety of firefighters and other first responders as they protect the public from fire and related hazards.

SAFER program grants assist local fire departments in recruiting firefighters to adhere to staffing, response, and operational standards outlined by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

With the help of supportive elected officials, the International and its affiliates have ensured that these grants keep hundreds of fire departments across the nation safely staffed and properly equipped, even amidst economic downturns.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed S. 870, the Fire Grants and Safety Act, with an overwhelming vote of 95 to 2. The Senate bill would reauthorise AFG and SAFER programs through 2030 and also authorise an increase of $20 million from current levels, totalling $95 million for the USFA.

The IAFF also advocates for an additional $12.5 million to be allocated to the USFA for the successful completion of their data management and IT upgrades.

Despite disputes over funding levels, Congress has consistently reauthorised the SAFER/AFG program and the USFA, ensuring that these critical fire service programs remain operational.

Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell, U.S. Fire Administrator, updated lawmakers on federal initiatives to enhance the USFA and tackle emerging challenges within the fire service, such as recruitment and retention, preparing firefighters to handle the climate-driven increase in fires, establishing a comprehensive firefighter cancer registry, and providing behavioral health assistance and suicide prevention initiatives for firefighters.

Dr. Moore-Merrell also underscored the USFA’s aim to improve its data collection, analysis, and reporting capabilities for emergency calls, which includes modernising the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) into a more advanced, cloud-based data capture system, known as the National Emergency Response Information System (NERIS).

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