WASHINGTON— A bipartisan group of members on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Thursday hailed passage of measures in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (S.3254) to renew funding for the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) and two grant programs critical to the hiring, training, and equipping of firefighters and emergency medical personnel across the country.  The Senate is expected to vote Monday on the passage of S.3254.

Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Federal Financial Management Subcommittee (FFM) Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., and FFM Ranking Member Scott Brown, R-Mass., co-sponsored this amendment to continue funding for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG), Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant (SAFER) and USFA. 

Lieberman, Collins and Carper are Co-Chairs of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus.

 “As Connecticut and east coast states continue to recover from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, we are reminded of the critical role firefighters have in responding to and preparing for emergencies,” said Senator Lieberman. “More than ever, first responders need the training and equipment to deal with not just fires, but natural disasters, hazardous materials, nuclear, explosive and radioactive threats and other potential dangers.  This legislation takes much-needed steps to ensure that our courageous first responders have what they need to protect their communities and themselves as they perform a very dangerous job.”

 “I am pleased that the Senate has unanimously agreed to this amendment to renew both the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the FIRE and SAFER grant programs.  America’s firefighters play a vital role in the security of our nation and it is important that, as a nation and a Congress, we are supportive of them,” said Senator Collins.  “As the principal federal agency for America’s fire service, the USFA provides valuable training for our fire and rescue personnel.  And the FIRE and SAFER programs provide critically needed resources directly to local fire departments. Because of this amendment, fire departments in Maine and across the nation will continue to receive the support needed to hire firefighters, purchase vehicles and life-saving equipment, and conduct training to develop the skills to better protect their communities against fires, natural disasters, or even a terrorist attack.”

“This amendment is critically important to fire fighters and emergency service organizations throughout the country, including the men and women who serve us in Delaware,” said Senator Carper. “As co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, I’m committed to ensuring that our first responders get the tools and resources they need to do their job safely and effectively.  Many emergency services organizations have had to make drastic cuts in equipment and personnel due to the challenging economy and severely strained state and local budgets. This life-saving measure allows our first responders to obtain essential grants that allow them to perform at their very best during times of crisis and will ensure they can continue to receive world-class training from the U.S. Fire Administration.” 

“I’m very pleased to know that with the passage of this important amendment, fire fighters and emergency management organizations in Massachusetts will continue to have access to federal funding for programs that provide essential training and support to first responders at the state and local level,” said Senator Brown.

The AFG program, also known as the FIRE Act grant program, provides federal grants to local fire departments and Emergency Medical Services to help address a variety of equipment, training and other firefighter and emergency response needs.  The SAFER program provides grants to fire departments for the purpose of increasing the number of firefighters to help communities meet industry minimum standards and attain 24-hour staffing to provide adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards.

Since its creation in 1974, the USFA and its Fire Academy have helped prevent fires, protect property, and save lives among firefighters and the public. Today, the Fire Administration is also integrated into our national, all-hazards preparations against natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

 The legislation reauthorizes the AFG and SAFER grant programs for five years and includes a number of accountability measures, including performance assessments and a competitive award process.  The amendment additionally requires the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress the effect changes to the grant programs have had on mitigating fire, fire-related and other hazards.