IAFF Testifies Before House on Improving FIRE Act and SAFER
The IAFF testified before a House Subcommittee July 8 regarding the need to amend the Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs to enable more communities to take full advantage of the programs.
IAFF Assistant to the General President Kevin O'Connor identified the current uneven distribution of funds as the number-one problem facing the FIRE grant program. "The overwhelming majority of FIRE grants are awarded to departments that protect a relatively small percentage of the population," testified O'Connor. "We fully support ensuring that communities of every size receive a fair share of FIRE grants. However, the current distribution of funds is an inefficient use of scarce federal resources."
To address this disparity, the IAFF proposed that professional fire departments receive a guaranteed percentage of total grant funding to better allocate funds among those departments that serve a majority of the nation's population.
O'Connor also called for raising the current funding caps on FIRE grant awards to provide sufficient resources for larger jurisdictions to improve preparedness, and proposed that the local match be reduced from 20 percent to 15 percent while allowing for exceptions in case of substantial need.
Amendments to the SAFER program were also discussed at the hearing. Although the IAFF recently succeeded in enacting temporary measures to waive the local match for SAFER and provide the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to waive some of the other restrictions for the 2009 and 2010 grants, O'Connor noted that a permanent change in law is needed to help local communities meet safe staffing levels. In addition to making permanent the waiver authorities, O'Connor argued that the rules governing SAFER must be simplified by shortening the grant period from five to three years, implementing an across-the-board 20 percent local match and eliminating the current funding cap.
The IAFF was joined by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in advocating for the amendments.
Subcommittee members, including Chair David Wu (D-OR) and Ranking Member Adrian Smith (R-NE), will be drafting legislation to reauthorize the FIRE and SAFER grant programs in the coming weeks. The IAFF will continue working closely with its congressional allies to ensure that its recommendations are incorporated into the Subcommittee's bill.