By Jerry Brant
For years the fire service did not have a federal grant program dedicated to funding the critical needs of our departments. Finally, 10 years ago, we were successful and the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program was born. Almost immediately there were attempts to reduce or eliminate the program. Then the disastrous events of 9/11 occurred and the need to properly equip and train our firefighters to respond to WMD, CBRN, and other potential mass casualty situations became paramount.
Those of us in the field know that the program has been a blessing to thousands of departments across the nation. Do we grumble when all of our applications are not approved? Sure, but the volume of applicants to this program exceeds the allocated funding each year. That in itself should send administration officials a message that the AFG Program should be considered for an increase in spending, not a reduction.
So what can you do to try to maintain adequate AFG funding? Like you I have been busy with a number of other things but in today's world of technology it only takes a few minutes to send an e-mail message or even make a phone call.
Here are some things to remember:
What you can do right now!
By Billy Goldfeder
Courtesy of The Secret List at FireFighterCloseCalls.com
As early as TOMORROW, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to consider H.R. 2892, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 DHS Appropriations bill. Representatives Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Jason Altmire (D-PA), Steve Austria (R-OH), and Peter King (R-NY) are expected to offer an amendment to increase funding for the FIRE grant program by $40 million to reach $420 million. While it is less than what we have seen in past years, it is more than is currently proposed.
You are urged to call your representative right now in support of the Pascrell amendment. The vote on this bipartisan amendment may occur as early as Tuesday, June 23. If you know your representative's name, you can call 202-225-3121 and ask to be connected to his or her office.
Last year, Congress appropriated $565 million for the FIRE grant program and $210 million for the SAFER grant program. In his FY 2010 budget, President Obama proposed doubling the SAFER grant program to $420 million and cutting the FIRE grant program by almost 70% to $170 million!
In their committee mark-up of H.R. 2892, Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Hal Rogers (R-KY) restored some of the funding to the FIRE grant program with a $380 million appropriation, and appropriated $420 million for the SAFER grant program to meet the president's request. The Pascrell amendment would equalize funding for both the FIRE and SAFER grant programs at $420 million. BOTH PROGRAMS ARE CRITICAL to the issues directly related to firefighter safety, health and survival.
In contacting your representatives, please remember:
- If you know your representative's name, you can call 202-225-3121 and ask to be connected to his or her office.
- You can find your representative's contact information at House.gov/. Just type in your zip code on the top left-hand corner of the Web site and you will be linked to your representative's Web site.
- Remember to ask to talk to the legislative assistant or legislative correspondent handling homeland security or fire service issues.
- Be sure to highlight that the FIRE grant program uses a peer-review, merit-based process to send federal funds directly to local fire departments for equipment, training, and fire prevention programs.
- Please mention if you have received a FIRE grant and how it helped your department, especially if it helped to save the lives of your firefighters or the public in your community.
This is one of our only opportunities to increase funding for the FIRE grant program this year, so we need you to contact your representative in support of the Pascrell amendment to increase FIRE grant funding by $40 million. Please make the call and contact right now … it will matter.
1. Be polite and respectful
2. Be concise with your remarks
3. Stick to only one topic
4. Please include an example of how AFG has helped your department
5. Start today before it is too late
The best means to communicate with your elected officials is by e-mail or by phone. If you want to you, can send your comments by regular mail but remember that all mail going to government agencies is screened and can be delayed for days while it goes through this process.
To e-mail the president, go to Whitehouse.gov and select the contact section from the menu. To e-mail your representative go to House.gov and select the House Directory category from the menu. This will take you directly to a page that includes options for contacting your representative. To contact your senator go to Senate.gov and scroll down the list of senators to find their contact information.
Please, take a moment and do this today, either a phone call or e-mail, before it is too late and we lose this valuable program.
This is my letter to the president, with copies sent to my Senators and Representatives. Please feel free to use it as an example, and obviously make it shorter if need be. Remember, time is of the essence with this: make the phone call or send the e-mail.
Dear Mr. President:
Time is of the essence so I will get right to the point! The fire service in America is currently experiencing a crisis. Across our country fire departments are cutting back, laying off personnel, closing stations and suspending equipment purchases. Volunteer departments are going bankrupt and closing.
I have been a volunteer firefighter for 40 years. When I first entered the fire service, the type of calls that we responded to fell into two categories, structure or wildland fires and vehicle accidents. Communities were able to adequately support their fire departments. In the second half of the last century, America became a more mobile and technologically advanced society.
This dramatically changed the scale and type of incidents which our departments responded to. Local communities lacked the revenue to sufficiently fund the equipment and training that was necessary to properly answer these calls. In addition, the fire service in our country did not have a financial assistance program dedicated solely to the critical needs of our organization.
To answer these needs, The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG) was implemented in 2001. Since that time, the program has provided departments across the nation with the financial support to purchase desperately needed items like: new turnout gear, communications equipment, safer apparatus, better rescue equipment and locally accessible training.
The majority of these items would never have been acquired by these departments without the help of AFG. Every year this program has received four to five times more requests than it has money to fund.
That’s one of the reasons why I am very concerned to learn that your administration has proposed a 70 percent cut in the program’s allocation for the next fiscal year. At a time when our communities are struggling with a barrage of economic issues is not when a decrease in funding should happen to such a vital program. I fear that doing so will have a catastrophic effect on our communities and our economy.
Reducing AFG funding will only escalate the economic troubles for our departments, our communities, and our country. If the response capabilities of our departments are negatively affected, then our ability to adequately protect lives and property will diminish. This will send property values into a tailspin; thus reducing income for municipalities from property taxes. It will increase insurance rates making it more difficult for Americans to buy or own a home. Decreased income for insurance companies, real estate brokers and lending institutions could be the final straw for a sector of the economy already on the brink of collapse.
Reducing AFG would have other negative effects on the economy as well. The vehicles our departments purchase are built in Wisconsin, Louisiana, Florida, South Dakota, and at other American sites. Some of the truck chassis’s used for fire apparatus are built by Ford, GM and Chrysler. They are sold and serviced by dealers and their employees all across our nation, translating into thousands of good paying jobs. Funding from AFG has provided millions of dollars in orders to these businesses. Scaling back this program would have disastrous results for these companies.
Just as important are the needs of our local departments. Results from a survey that were just released by the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company show that one in four departments do not have adequate extrication equipment needed to safely and quickly remove injured people from a vehicle accident.
Only half of the 9,500 departments surveyed have enough protective equipment for all personnel to respond to wildland fires. When it comes to dealing with terrorism or WMD incidents, 76 percent of our departments do not feel that they are adequately trained to respond to these types of events.
Even though our country boosts about its technological capabilities, 41 percent of the engine companies that responded to the survey stated that they do not have a thermal imaging camera to help locate victims inside a burning structure. And 57 percent of the volunteer companies that responded said they are losing members who have to relocate to find employment.
Mr. President, the very people who have unselfishly given their time and talents to their communities are now asking for help. Funding the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program at its current allocation for the next fiscal year would certainly answer our appeal.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I hope you will look favorably on this request.
Senator Arlen Specter
Senator Robert P. Casey Jr.
Representative John P. Murtha
Representative Bill Shuster