By: Dave Gatton
I doubt if the Fire Service has faced such a pivotal year as the one we have entered. Our two stalwart programs, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program (AFG) and the SAFER (hiring) program are both up for reauthorization in 2017. If Congress fails to authorize the programs again, they will expire in January of 2018. Hundreds of local fire and rescue departments that depend on AFG and SAFER to fill critical equipment and staffing gaps would find that the federal government had abandoned them, even though these very departments form the first line of responders in our nation’s National Response Plan.
Whether it’s a major weather event, a terrorist act, a hazardous spill, or other catastrophes, it is our local fire and rescue departments that are on the scene for the first 72 hours, and then remain there throughout the response. This critical role fulfills a federal and national need to protect the public from forces foreign and domestic. For this reason alone, Congress should reauthorize the AFG and SAFER programs with full bi-partisan support.
2017 – Hill Day
FAMA and FEMSA members understand the importance of Congressional action this year. Fifty-two members convened in Washington DC, April 5-6, for our 2017 Hill Day, where 11 FAMA and FEMSA teams met with 117 Congressional offices to promote reauthorization and encourage funding the programs at $405 million each for FY 2017 and FY 2018.
These teams met with the decision makers, including members and staff of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, the Senate Government Affairs and Homeland Security Committees, and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee which have jurisdiction over the reauthorization. These meetings were substantive and timely. Only FAMA and FEMSA members can uniquely articulate the manufacturing and economic benefits of the two
programs, along with their fire, rescue, and response rationale.
During the first day of Hill Day, Senators McCain (AZ), Tester (MT), Carper (DE), and Collins (ME), all senior senators, introduced S. 829 which reauthorizes AFG and SAFER. The bill is a straightforward reauthorization that keeps the essential structure of the existing programs, minus the sunset provision. Many thanks to the Congressional Fire Services Institute for their leadership in the introduction of S. 829. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee is expected to hold hearings soon on their reauthorization package.
All told, it will be our responsibility, along with all the other Fire Coalition members, to push Congress to act this year. This means now is the time to arrange for your Congressional delegation to visit your facility this summer, so they can witness first-hand the economic and jobs impact of our industry on communities all across the U.S.
We are the industry that helps first responders save lives; we simply now must do all we can to make sure they have the tools they need to do their jobs.