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Fire service grants could be in peril: Take action now

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On September 30, 2023, the authorizations for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG), Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant, and U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) lapsed. AFG and SAFER could potentially permanently be shut down if Congress does not act to reauthorize them by September 30, 2024.

These programs provide critical resources and assistance to the fire and emergency medical service departments that protect our communities. AFG enables departments to obtain the equipment, vehicles, and training they need to do their jobs safely and effectively. SAFER supports recruitment, retention, and hiring efforts so departments have enough staffing to respond to emergencies. USFA is the federal agency that assists the fire service in preparing for, preventing, mitigating, and responding to all hazards.

Though the Senate’s reauthorization bill (S. 870) passed the Senate 95-2 in April and the House’s reauthorization bill (H.R. 4090) unanimously passed the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in June, there are still obstacles that are impeding this reauthorization’s further movement. Some key Senators have also objected to including AFG, SAFER, and USFA’s reauthorization in key pieces of legislation. The House’s rules for the 118th Congress make it difficult to pass this reauthorization due to the constraints on length and expense of reauthorizations. The House also lost valuable time to consider legislation due to the three-week pause of legislative business while they were without a Speaker. There is now the threat of an additional pause in legislative business if the government shuts down after the expiration of the current continuing resolution on November 17.

The best way to overcome these obstacles to reauthorization is education. The NVFC and other national fire service organizations have been active advocates of these programs through various means, including the news media. In May representatives from the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) and other national fire organizations testified before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology regarding the importance of AFG, SAFER, and USFA. On September 20, the NVFC, Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) hosted a Congressional open house highlighting the need for AFG, SAFER, and USFA. On October 12, these organizations co-hosted a press conference in Washington, DC, to raise awareness of this issue.

While the NVFC and other national fire organizations remain actively engaged in Washington, DC, we need your help to amplify the message. Your Representative and Senators need to hear directly from you as their constituents, especially if you have received an AFG or SAFER grant or have benefited from the USFA’s curriculum. It is very effective when members of Congress and Senators hear directly from constituents about a program’s success stories in their state or district. The NVFC, CFSI, IAFF, IAFC, NFFF, and NFPA all have experts on staff that can provide you with Congressional office contact information, talking points, and anything else you may need to contact your legislators.

The NVFC also has an active Action Alert that allows you to easily email a letter to your Senators and member of Congress to advocate for increased funding and the reauthorization of AFG, SAFER, and USFA with just a few clicks. In addition, CFSI has set up a landing page for AFG, SAFER, and USFA reauthorization, where you can learn more and submit a success story related to an AFG or SAFER grant you have received. The more specific examples Congress hears about AFG and SAFER’s successes, the more successful our advocacy efforts will be.

Though AFG, SAFER, and USFA have had a very successful track record, their future is far from certain because they are competing with many other federal legislative priorities. If these programs are not reauthorized by the end of this year our opportunities to do so before AFG and SAFER’s September 30 sunset date will significantly diminish. Please urge your member of Congress and Senators to reauthorize these critical programs by December 31 and encourage others within the fire service to do the same.