WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Thursday hailed passage of an amendment that would strengthen local fire departments across the country. The amendment, authored by Senator Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and co-sponsored by Lieberman, authorizes $3 billion over three years for grants to increase the number of fire fighters nationwide so communities can meet minimum standards of protection against terrorism and other hazards. Similar in substance to the SAFER Act of 2003, which stands for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, the amendment was adopted as part of the Department of Defense authorization bill.
“Only firefighters can protect against chemical weapons or rescue families trapped in buildings,” Lieberman said. “But in some cities and states today, firefighters are actually being laid off because of budget cutbacks. That’s like reducing your troop force in a time of conventional warfare. It’s crazy and it must stop and only more money from Washington can make it stop. This amendment is at least a start.”
The amendment calls for ramping up fire fighting forces by adding 10,000 additional hires per year for the next three years. Under Lieberman’s leadership last year, the Governmental Affairs Committee voted to approve homeland security legislation that included $2 billion for hiring additional firefighters. That provision was defeated by Republicans on the Senate floor.
Lieberman recently has proposed $7.5 billion in new funding for first responders in FY 2004 above the Administration’s call for $3.5 billion. One billion of the $7.5 billion was to have been dedicated to the SAFER Act in FY2004. He has also called for the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense to offer local law enforcers and fire fighters expanded access to special training on chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weaponry. According to the International Association of Fire Fighters, the shortage of fire fighters has reached crisis proportions.
Two-thirds of all fire departments do not have adequate staffing, falling below the accepted industry standards developed by the National Fire Protection Association. IAFF estimates that 75,000 additional fire fighters are needed to bring staffing up to minimally acceptable levels of safety and effective response. Almost every investigation into fire fighter fatalities conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health over the past decade identified inadequate staffing as either the primary cause or a significant contributing factor to the death of a fire fighter.