Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) praised the Senate passage of the Fire Grants and Safety Act, a bill she led with Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The bipartisan legislation, which was co-sponsored by Senator Angus King (I-ME), will extend federal programs that support local fire departments across the country. The bill would reauthorize the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, and the United States Fire Administration (USFA). The programs are set to expire and are used by local fire departments to address staffing needs, purchase equipment, develop fire training and education programs, and improve emergency medical services.
“Firefighters across Maine and the country courageously and selflessly put their lives on the line to serve their towns and cities,” said Senator Collins. “As part of a bipartisan effort to ensure that firefighters have adequate staffing, equipment, and training to do their important jobs as effectively and safely as possible, my colleagues and I helped create FEMA’s firefighter grant programs in 2003. By reauthorizing these programs, we can continue to deliver this critical assistance to fire departments and support firefighters as they work to protect lives and property.”
“Firefighters across Maine put their lives on the line for our communities and our families when we are most in need,” said Senator King. “These federal grant programs have done an excellent job providing fire departments funding to hire additional personnel, acquire life-saving equipment, and train for constantly-changing emergencies. The Senate’s overwhelming reauthorization of the grants is a testament to the importance of our firefighters and their work. I’m grateful for Senators Collins and Peters’ bipartisan leadership on this bill and look forward to our continued efforts to serve those who protect our communities.”
Below are statements in support of the senators’ bipartisan legislation:
"The Sanford Fire Department has received AFG awards during the existence of the program. We have benefitted from the awards by being able to replace an aged SCBA fit test machine which allows us to ensure that the air packs that the firefighters wear fit their bodies and protect them from the dangers of the smoke and fires. In Maine there is a danger of forest/grass fires every year. In 2015, we were able to purchase a 4x4 fire engine that is specifically designed to fight the wild land fires that exist. This asset helps protect life and property in all of York County, not just Sanford,” said Assistant Chief Robert Arnold, Sanford Fire Department. This week alone we have responded to fires in the county with this Engine four times. Our most recent award was to fund specialty training for the firefighters. We have been able to certify the entire department in Rapid Intervention Team (RIT). A RIT is there to engage in situations that involve a lost, trapped, or otherwise downed firefighter. As a result, our department is looked to by many of our neighboring departments to share this skill set to keep them safe as well. None of these items or actions would have been possible without the support of the AFG."
“Easton has benefited twice from an AFG award, the first although seemingly small in the scope of what others have received, was immensely beneficial to our small volunteer department. We received funding that allowed us to purchase individual face mask for each member SCBA qualified. No longer do we have to share this crucial item with other and pass along unwanted sweat and potential pathogens as well,” said Chief Greg White, Easton Fire Department. “The second award is huge for our department’s safety and ability to perform our duties. We received an award to replace our 30 plus year old converted oil delivery vehicle which was our tanker, with a new NFPA approved 3000 gallon pumper/tanker. This vehicle is still awaiting fabrication due to the ongoing supply issues, but I assure you that this purchase will change for the absolute positive our ability to serve and protect our community.”
“Reauthorizing this program is critical to small taxpayer funded fire services. In Orono, these grant dollars have augmented the already stretched local tax dollars to fund equipment and staffing needed to support effective emergency response to the community while improving safety for our dedicated first responders,” said Sophia Wilson, Orono Town Manager. “In particular, the SAFER Grant provides an opportunity to trial the implementation of what we believe will be a more cost effective staffing model that promotes an improved work environment for our staff. The Town could not have increased the department's staffing level without the grant funds to demonstrate the overall positive impact of the change.”
“As the Fire Chief of Bangor, Maine, and the President of the Maine Fire Chief's Association, I would like to emphasize the importance of the Assistance to Firefighters Grants Program (AFG) and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grants Program in supporting the firefighting work which takes place across the State of Maine,” said Thomas Higgins, President of the Maine Fire Chiefs Association and Bangor Fire Chief/Emergency Management Director. “These programs provide funding for critical public safety equipment such as pumper trucks and self-contained breathing apparatuses. In addition to this, these funds help departments to hire additional firefighters to fill gaps in services. The AFG and SAFER grant programs have made a significant impact on firefighting work across Maine, improving the overall safety of communities throughout the state. These grants are essential resources that help firefighters provide critical public safety services to their communities.”
“The Assistance for Firefighters grant that we received for our local fire department has been instrumental in improving our community's safety and enhancing the capabilities of our firefighters. With the $64,761 in grant funding, we were able to purchase an air cascade system for bulk storage of the highly pressurized air used in our firefighting efforts, which has proven to be a critical asset,” said Kevin Howell, Carmel Town Manager. The AFG grant program has been a valuable source of support for local fire departments not just in Carmel, but throughout the state, providing them with the resources they need to protect our communities, particularly those in more rural areas, and to keep our firefighters safe. I urge our elected officials to prioritize the reauthorization of this crucial bill, which plays an important role in ensuring the safety and well-being of our citizens."
"I can attest to the significant impact that federal grants have on ensuring the safety and well-being of our community. Without the Assistance for Firefighters grant we received, we would have struggled to provide the necessary resources and equipment for effective emergency services,” said Chief Nicholas, Chief of Passamaquoddy Tribe-Indian Township. “Federal grants are vital in filling the funding gaps that often exist in rural municipalities and are essential in providing the support necessary for first responders to fulfill their duties and keep our communities safe."
Additionally, the U.S. Fire Administration expressed support for the Fire Grants and Safety Act in March with a letter to Senate leadership.
Fire departments use these federal programs to recruit and retain additional personnel, as well as buy up-to-date vehicles and equipment such as breathing air compressors, hoses, nozzles, and more. Fire stations also utilize the programs to fund safety training and technical rescue training, as well as health screenings for firefighters.
The Fire Grants and Safety Act reauthorizes SAFER, AFG, and the USFA until 2030. It authorizes $95 million for USFA – a nearly $20 million increase from current levels and maintains currently authorized levels of funding for the SAFER and AFG programs.
Along with Senators Angus King (I-ME), Gary Peters (D-MI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Tom Carper (D-DE), the bill is cosponsored by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Jerry Moran (R-KS), John Boozman (R-AR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).
Senator Collins also delivered remarks on the Senate floor to express her support for the legislation. Her full remarks are below:
Mr. President, I am delighted that the Senate is proceeding to consideration of the Fire Grants and Safety Act. This bipartisan legislation, which my colleague from Michigan, Senator Peters, the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, and I have introduced, is cosponsored by our fellow Congressional Fire Caucus chairs, Senators Murkowski, Tester and Carper. Our bill would extend critical FEMA fire prevention programs, some of which are set to expire at the end of this fiscal year. Mr. President, your State of Vermont and mine are a lot alike, and firefighters are critical to the safety of our communities, whether they are small or large.
Firefighters, across Maine and the country, courageously serve their communities. Recognizing their commitment, in 2002 and 2003, I helped create FEMA's firefighter grant programs as part of a bipartisan effort to ensure that firefighters have adequate staffing, equipment and training to do their essential jobs as effectively and safely as possible. At that time, I was the chair or ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. The Fire Grants and Safety Act would reauthorize four critical firefighting and emergency services programs. The US Fire Administration, which provides training and data to state and local fire departments, as well as education and awareness for the public. The Assistance for Firefighters Grant Program, known as the AFG, which helps to equip and train firefighters and emergency personnel.
The Fire Prevention and Safety Grant Program, which provides resources to carry out fire prevention, education, and training, and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Program, better known as the SAFER program, which helps our local fire departments recruit, hire and retain additional firefighters. Since October of 2020, fire departments across Maine have received just under $12 million from the AFG and SAFER Grant programs. These critical investments in local rural fire departments supported replacements of decades-old fire engines and obsolete breathing apparatuses. It also allowed for the hiring of additional firefighters. That's helping to ensure that Maine communities continue to provide excellent public safety services to our residences.
Mr. President, I have visited many of the fire stations around the state, and I've seen firsthand the difference that these federal grant programs make in improving the safety of our firefighters, who risk their lives to protect ours. Many of the fire stations to Maine are decades or even a century old. They need updated equipment. They need better breathing equipment. They need better fire engines. And that's the purpose of many of these programs. They also are helped by these programs in getting a sufficient number of firefighters and emergency medical personnel.
Fire chiefs across the state of Maine tell me of the critical importance of these programs in helping their local fire departments keep their communities safe. And that's one reason that this bill has such broad support from the International Association of Firefighters, the Association of Fire Chiefs, the list goes on and on and on. Failure to reauthorize these programs would lessen the ability of our firefighters to perform their vital jobs, and thus, would reduce the safety of the public. So, I urge all of my colleagues to support the swift passage of this legislation to support our firefighters. We simply cannot allow these vital programs to expire. Thank you, Mr. President.