“Our Firefighters Deserve Praise and Assistance”

Our nation is grateful for our career and volunteer firefighters. Whether they serve in a large city or a small town, whether they are called to a major catastrophe or a local emergency, they respond when the alarm sounds. They head into danger that others flee. They risk their lives to save our lives.

It is difficult to imagine the courage it takes to enter a burning building or approach a blazing truck or railroad car that may be about to explode. We can only dimly grasp the skill and discipline it takes to rescue and tend to a fire or an accident victim in the midst of confusion and danger. At any time, any of us could easily find our lives dependent on the firefighting and rescue skills of these heroic and dedicated men and women.

The impact of firefighters extends well beyond their home towns. Not only do they routinely offer mutual assistance among towns, but as highly trained first responders, they also are a key component in state and federal preparedness plans for responding to natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Carrying out these responsibilities requires enormous effort, not to mention ample resources for recruiting and training personnel and for securing and maintaining modern equipment.

As a member of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, and Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I have worked hard to help ensure our firefighters have the resources they need to help defend our people against the ancient enemy of fire, as well as the newer challenges of terrorism and hazardous materials.

The FIRE Act grants program has been an effective and efficient way to provide those resources. Equipment, new and used vehicles, and training strengthen our fire services, and help protect the more than 1.3 million firefighters and emergency responders. The direct aid awarded to local fire departments through FIRE grants is proof that these programs succeed in delivering support where it is needed. Since the program’s creation in 2001, Maine fire departments have been awarded more than $54 million.

I was a cosponsor of the original FIRE Act. I also cosponsored bills to reauthorize this Act in 2004 and 2010. Unfortunately, last year’s bill did not become law, but I am working with my colleagues and I am confident that we will get this vital work done this year.

I have visited many fire departments across Maine, and I have seen first-hand how these grants build the critical response capabilities of our local fire departments. And they help to save lives.

In 2005, the Hermon Fire Department received Assistance to Firefighters Grant funding for a community fire prevention program – smoke alarms with 10-year batteries in every home, 1,000 alarms in all.

A few months later, at 3:42 a.m. two days after Christmas, one of those alarms sounded, set off by a malfunctioning furnace. Long before the flames began to spread and the house filled with poisonous fumes, the family of six – including a toddler – was outside, safe and sound. It is hard to imagine the tragedy that would have occurred without that program.

From enhanced wildfire response in the West to improved hazardous materials preparedness in industrial areas, FIRE Act grants have been a well-run program and a great success. Our bipartisan reauthorization legislation would build upon this success.

Recently, I was pleased to accept the "Excellence in Fire Service Based EMS Award" from the Congressional Fire Services Institute for my efforts to support our nation’s firefighters. To be recognized by an organization representing those who risk their lives to serve their local communities is deeply gratifying.

Our firefighters put their lives on the line at every call to save others and protect property, whether in a single house fire or in a widespread disaster. Like the members of our armed forces, they need good equipment, adequate staffing, intensive training, and public support to do their job. We owe them all a debt of gratitude and we must continue to work to help ensure that they are kept as safe as possible as they protect each of us.

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