It is important to remain attuned to legislative affairs, as it is easy to become complacent with the “someone else is taking care of that” syndrome. After all, federal policy can affect fire chiefs in numerous ways. Tax policy may help recruit and retain volunteer firefighters or help building owners install fire sprinklers in their buildings. Federal training and grant programs help fire departments prepare for hazmat incidents or acts of terrorism. Federal labor laws affect the compensation for volunteer firefighters and shift schedules. In addition, there are new and evolving issues regarding unmanned aerial systems (aka drones) and autonomous and connected cars and trucks.
Following up on our recent theme of political acumen, while attending Fire-Rescue International, I sat in on an educational session by Ken LaSala Jr. – director of governmental relations and policy with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) – who provided a quick yet comprehensive update on the state of legislation and grant funding being considered by the 116th Congress and the impact on local fire and EMS departments.
The big ones on most people’s minds – SAFER, AFG – are in that annual dance between the president’s and House of Representative’s requests. Only time will tell where the numbers fall; however, the funding appropriation looks promising for at least static amounts, with increases possible.
An increase in the U.S. Fire Administration budget looks very promising, something that’s been needed for quite some time. There are significant gaps to resolve between the legislative and executive proposals, specifically on funding for the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) program, State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP), U.S. Department of Agriculture, and volunteer assistance grants. Also, LaSala explained that what appears to be a decrease for USAR is actually a correction from the funds needed to recover from hurricanes Irma and Michael.
LaSala outlined many other pertinent programs under consideration by Congress as well:
- $2.5M for the National Firefighter Cancer Registry
- SIREN grants – money for rural EMS companies. There is currently no money set aside here, but LaSala commented that they hope to see $30M
- ALERT grants for hazmat training
In terms of legislation, LaSala noted several areas that are currently under consideration.
- Communications issues focused on legislation related to the T-Band, NG 911 and more
- Tax legislation focuses on sprinkler retrofits, the SECURE Act and Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act
- Mental wellness issues focused on H.R. 1646, the HERO Act
- Pipeline safety legislation includes H.R. 3432, the Safer Pipelines Act
- Public Safety Officer Benefits (PSOB)-related legislation includes H.R. 1327 to make 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund permanent and S. 1208 and H.R. 2812, the Protecting America’s First Responders Act
LaSala also covered a handful of EMS issues, including the EMS Emergency Triage, Treat and Transport (ET3) program as well as technology issues related to unmanned aerial systems (UAS), autonomous vehicles and traffic safety, cybersecurity and the National Mutual Aid System.
Stay engaged in legislative efforts
Chiefs should closely follow the federal legislative efforts through participation locally and nationally through the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI). LaSala and his team, along with the CFSI, need your support to ensure that the elected officials understand what’s important to the fire service. Much of the funding we have benefitted from, and continue to need, rests in these deliberations.