WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Senate approved a provision introduced by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to help local fire departments across the country save money as they hire and promote trained first responders. The provision, which passed the Senate as part of the AFG and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act, gives fire departments the flexibility to use Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grants to transition part-time or paid-on-call personnel who are already trained and equipped to respond to emergencies to full-time status. Current law only allows SAFER grants to be used to hire and train new personnel, and prohibits fire departments from using SAFER grants to promote part-time firefighters.

“Nearly seventy percent of firefighters across the country are part-time personnel or volunteers who provide critical, lifesaving services to their communities,” said Senator Peters, a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “Part-time first responders already have the training and experience needed to respond to emergencies, and I’m pleased the Senate approved this commonsense, bipartisan legislation that will help fire departments better manage their resources and save money by promoting the well-trained firefighters who are already working to keep our communities safe.”

“Volunteer and part-time firefighters provide a vital service to municipalities across Maine and the country,” said Senator Collins, the Chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. “Unfortunately, when these experienced, highly-trained individuals wish to become full-time firefighters, fire departments are prohibited from using certain federal funds to promote them. Our cost-effective legislation removes this unnecessary restriction so that these brave men and women can continue to serve their fellow citizens and fire departments have the resources necessary to keep their communities safe.”

The SAFER grant program currently provides direct funding to fire departments and volunteer firefighter organizations to help them increase or maintain the number of trained firefighters on duty in their communities. Volunteer or part-time firefighters make up 70 percent of the total firefighting force in the United States, and these first responders receive important training and certifications to prepare for emergency situations. The Peters-Collins provision enables fire departments to devote resources to promoting firefighters that are already trained and serving in local communities, rather than hiring and training new personnel for full-time employment.

For Fiscal Year 2016, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is projected to award more than $345 million to fire departments across the country through the SAFER grant program. SAFER grants are one of three FEMA fire safety grant programs, along with Assistance for Firefighter Grants (AFG) and Fire Prevention & Safety (FP&S) grants. Last year, Michigan received nearly $33 million from these three grant programs.