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|Last Updated: Monday, November 05, 2012|
FIRE Act/SAFER Reforms Move Forward
Legislation to improve the Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE Act) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs took an important step forward April 28 as the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs approved bill 3267, the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act, by voice vote.
The bill, which was introduced by Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and cosponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tom Carper (D-DE) and John McCain (R-AZ), would change the formula for the FIRE Act program to provide more funding for professional and combination fire departments, and increase the size of the grants awarded to larger jurisdictions.
The legislation would also increase the cap on SAFER grants, allowing communities to receive 75 percent of the total cost of an entry level fire fighter, and would make permanent the waivers that allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to waive local matches for communities facing financial hardship.
"We applaud the Senate Homeland Security Committee for taking this important vote today," says IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. "Chairman Lieberman and Ranking Member Collins worked long and hard over a period of many months to bring this bill to a vote, and we are greatly appreciative of all their efforts."
Although the bill passed by voice vote, it was not without dissent. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) objected to reauthorizing the FIRE Act and SAFER grant programs, arguing that fire protection should be exclusively a local government responsibility. Coburn even suggested that the entire program might be unconstitutional because the federal government does not have authority over fire safety.
Coburn's comments were immediately rebutted by Senators McCain, Collins and Ted Kaufman (D-DE), all of whom stressed the important federal role in fire protection. McCain argued that fire services are a governmental function, and all levels of government should help shoulder the burden. Collins added that the nation's homeland security strategies depend on the effectiveness of local fire departments, and the federal government is obligated to help fire departments improve their response capabilities.
Coburn, however, was the only senator to voice any objections. Passage of the legislation was assured when the IAFF and four other national fire service organizations jointly wrote a letter to the committee expressing their support for moving forward. The fire service groups expressed their preference for a version of the bill that passed the House of Representatives last year, but urged support for the Senate bill as a way to move the issue forward.
The next step will be the Senate floor. Although the bill is generally considered non-controversial, the Senate has struggled in recent months to schedule action on many bills that enjoy bipartisan support. Senate action could depend on whether any senator objects to bringing the bill before the Senate or wants to offer controversial amendments.
If the Senate does pass the bill, more work remains as the House and Senate must reconcile the competing versions of the legislation. While the House bill will enjoy the support of fire service groups, many Senate conservatives may insist on sticking with the Senate passed version.
"Today's vote was a major stride forward," remarks Schaitberger, "but we still have a long way to go. In these economic challenging times, federal assistance is more important than ever. We will continue working to provide IAFF locals with the financial help they need."
Author:IAFF Press Release
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