Collins, Peters Introduce Bill to Give Fire Departments Flexibility in Hiring

Bill Allows Fire Departments to Use Federal Funding to Promote Part-Time Firefighters

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced bipartisan legislation today to help local fire departments across the country save money and hire and promote trained first responders. The Firefighters Retention Act of 2017 will give fire departments flexibility to use Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) Grants to transition part-time or paid-on-call personnel to full-time status. Under current law, fire departments can only use SAFER grants to hire and train new personnel and are prohibited from using these grants to promote part-time firefighters, who are already trained and equipped to respond to emergencies.

“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.”

“Part-time firefighters serve on the frontlines of their communities and have the experience to effectively and efficiently respond when emergency strikes,” said Senator Peters, a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “This commonsense legislation would give fire departments greater ability to promote trained, experienced firefighters, which will save money and reaffirm the critical role these men and women play in keeping our neighborhoods safe.”

“Here in Maine, it is increasingly difficult to find individuals willing and able to answer the call to fight fires within their communities,” said Maine State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas. “This critical shortage puts lives and property at greater risk. By giving fire departments additional tools to recruit full-time firefighters, the Firefighters Retention Act will help towns effectively deliver fire and safety services.”

In fiscal year 2015, a total of $340 million was awarded to fire departments across the country through the SAFER grant program. The SAFER grant program provides direct funding to fire departments and volunteer firefighter organizations to help them increase or maintain the number of trained firefighters available in their communities. The majority of organized fire departments recruit resident and community leaders who are familiar with their neighborhoods to be part-time or volunteer firefighters - comprising 70% of the total firefighting force in the United States. These firefighters receive critical training and certifications, including fire officer, pump operator or engineer, extrication, and hazardous materials training. In addition to providing flexibility to support part-time personnel, the Firefighters Retention Act of 2017 would also save money for fire departments and taxpayers alike by allowing fire departments to direct their resources toward firefighters who are already trained rather than devoting greater resources to recruiting and training new firefighters.

The Firefighters Retention Act of 2017 has been endorsed by the International Association of Firefighters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Association of Counties, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, among other groups.