Volunteer firefighter grant funding in line for a raise

Legislation moving through the House and Senate would provide more help for volunteer departments that take on wildland firefighting

On July 13 the U.S. House of Representatives adopted an amendment increasing funding for the Volunteer Fire Assistance program from $13 million to $15 million.

The amendment was offered by Reps Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) to the FY2017 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 5538).

The Volunteer Fire Assistance program, formerly known as the Rural Community Fire Protection Program, was initiated by the Cooperative Forestry Act of 1978. VFA is administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

The program can provide federal financial, technical and other assistance to state foresters and other appropriate officials to organize, train and equip fire departments in rural areas and rural communities to suppress fires.

Funding is allocated to state foresters who distribute grants to local fire departments. Volunteer agencies protecting communities with populations of 10,000 or fewer residents are eligible to apply.

Funds are used to help volunteer fire departments prepare for and respond to wildland fires. In 2015, VFA assisted 9,318 communities, provided training to 22,272 firefighters and facilitated the purchase, rehabilitation, and maintenance of $8.1 million in equipment.

Rural firefighting resources are often the first line of defense in meeting expanded protection needs for wildland-urban interface fires. Of the more than 35,000 local fire agencies nationwide, 75 percent are volunteer.

The final vote
These departments provide nearly 80 percent of initial attack on wildland fires in the United States. These departments provide, at no cost, wildfire and emergency protection service to 43 percent of the population, at an estimated value of $36 billion per year.

VFA funding helps ensure that these departments are responding with the proper training and equipment. 

The House passed H.R. 5538 on July 14 and the bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved separate FY2017 Department of Interior appropriations legislation that also provides $15 million for VFA.

Congress is unlikely to approve final FY2017 appropriations until after the November election.

That the bill has made it this far is due in part to those departments and fire service personnel that made contact with their Congressmen and asked them to support an increase for this critical program.

Now that we have their attention it would be a good time to follow up with your elected officials and seek their support for continuing the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program. This crucial program is up for renewal in 2017 and we cannot let it be discontinued by the House and Senate.

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