FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CONTACT: Meredith Kelly
December 5, 2012 202-224-7433
SCHUMER: SENATE DEFENSE BILL PROVIDES LIFE-SAVING SUPPORT FOR UPSTATE NEW YORK FIRE DEPTS TO HIRE & TRAIN FIREFIGHTERS, PURCHASE VITAL EQUIPMENT — URGES HOUSE CONFEREES TO REAUTHORIZE PROGRAM TO ENSURE SAFETY OF NY COMMUNITIES, BETTER ADDRESS NATURAL DISASTERS, LIKE SANDY, IRENE & LEE
During Call, Schumer Urged House Conferees to Prioritize Proposal to Renew & Update Life-Saving Grant Programs That Provide Local FDs With Tools & Training to Respond to Local Emergencies, Terrorist Attacks & Natural Disasters
Schumer, an Original Sponsor of AFG Fire Grant Program, Highlighted That Senate Bill Expands Access & Availability of Funding For Staffing & Equipment, Lowers Community Matching Requirements to Make Hard-Hit Communities Eligible
Schumer Described Life-Saving Rescue Efforts During Recent Storms & Breakdown of Over $51 Million Upstate NY FD’s Have Received In Recent Years
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on members of the House of Representatives to reauthorize the Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) programs that fund new equipment, training, and the hiring of new firefighters for local fire departments. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed late Tuesday night, the Senate included an amendmentto reauthorize and improve upon these life-saving programs for Upstate New York fire departments, particularly in light of recent natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy, along with Tropical Storms Irene and Lee. The House of Representatives passed their version of the defense authorization in earlier this year, which did not include the reauthorization of these grant programs. The differences between the two defense bills will now be reconciled in a conference committee before being sent to President Obama for a signature. Schumer is calling on House conferees to include this life-saving reauthorization in the final bill.
Schumer highlighted instances of fire departments throughout the state that were recipients of AFG or SAFER grants, and many that subsequently took part in rescue efforts during those storms. Upstate New York fire departments have benefitted from approximately $51 million in grants under these two programs in just the last few years, that have helped volunteer and career fire departments in purchasing state-of-the-art breathing apparatuses, new trucks and other equipment that is essential to keeping them safe, as well as to recruit and train firefighters. At a time when so many county and local governments are strapped for cash, and natural disasters are taking a toll on local and state budgets, Schumer stressed the importance of reauthorizing and securing the future of these programs. This legislation will make improvements to these critical grant programs, such as lowering community matching requirements for jurisdictions with certain population levels and introducing an economic hardship waiver for those requirements, which will be important in communities recovering from natural disasters.
“Our firefighters need to know that the federal government has their backs every time they suit up and prepare to save lives,” said Schumer. “For this reason, it is critical that the final National Defense Authorization Act include the reauthorization of two critical grant programs for our firefighters – the AFG and the SAFER – that have long helped local fire departments meet staffing and equipment needs so they can keep Upstate New Yorkers safe. What’s more, the Senate legislation expands and improves upon these existing programs, and extends potential aid to communities that are under economic distress after natural disasters, like Sandy, Irene, and Lee. Over the years, the AFG and SAFER grant program have proven critical to the safety of firefighters, their communities and individuals across the state during natural disaster, and I am pushing my colleagues on the conference committee, charged with finalizing the defense bill, to ensure New York communities will have access to these critical funds.”
“The successful effort to extend the authorization of the FIRE ACT grants is a testimony to the value of this unique program,” Richard Messina, President, NYSAFC. “Monies spent from this program bring short and long term value to the taxpayers of this country, not only in lives saved, but in the protection of local economies as well.”
“Reauthorizing these important programs is critical to the fire service and our membership,” said Mike McManus, President of the NYS Professional Firefighters Association. “Over the years the AFG program has provided our members with state-of-the-art equipment from safety harnesses to turnout gear to breathing apparatus that saves the lives of firefighters and helps us save lives and property. Many of our locals have benefitted from the SAFER program, which helps municipalities reach adequate staffing levels for safe and efficient firefighting. Continuing these programs for the next five years will help us deliver state of the art emergency services while helping to keep us as safe as possible. We are very fortunate to have Senator Schumer representing us and we applaud him for fighting for these programs, as he always has.”
On the call, Schumer was joined by Tom Labelle, Executive Director of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs, to emphasize the importance of the AFG and SAFER programs for Upstate New York, and highlighted some of the important changes made in the Senate reauthorization that improve these programs. First, Schumer highlighted that this legislation expands access for communities to apply for such grants that are under economic distress, as a result of natural disaster or otherwise. Under the Senate reauthorization, waivers are now available for nonfederal matching and maintenance of expenditure requirements. FEMA will develop economic hardship guidelines moving forward that consider unemployment rates in the applicant community, percentage of individuals that receive food stamps, and other factors such as distress and burdensome costs from natural disasters and more. Schumer explained that many flood-prone communities throughout New York are still cash-strapped from damages incurred during Tropical Storms Irene and Lee, but should not be prevented from applying for new equipment or training programs as a result. Schumer also noted that those communities should be prioritized for AFG and SAFER funding due to their propensity for flooding or storm damage, and should not be penalized for their inability to match such funding.
As Schumer urged House members to pass the Senate’s legislation, he highlighted that the amount of nonfederal fund matching required from a community has been lowered in the Senate bill. For AFG funding, communities with 20,000 people or less would only be required to match five percent of the grant. For populations between 20,000 to 1,000,000 residents, communities would owe 10 percent. Communities of more than 1,000,000 would owe 15 percent. Under current law, communities with over 50,000 individuals owe 20 percent, and the remaining percentages remain the same, thus drastically lowering the vast majority of funding that communities must provide to receive AFG funding.
Schumer also noted the important balance that the Senate reauthorization of these programs provides when allocating resources to both volunteer and career fire departments. Under the Senate’s proposed updates, career, volunteer, and combination departments must get at least 25 percent each of available funding under the AFG program. This is an attempt at parity for the three types of departments we find across the state and nation. Like the communities they serve, each type has unique strengths, weaknesses and challenges. This will ensure that all municipalities and departments will have a fair shot at the funding they need.
Finally, Schumer highlighted the critical importance in reauthorizing these life-saving grant programs, particularly given the economic climate focused on budget cuts. To put it simply, Schumer stated that this reauthorization of the AFG and SAFER programs, which technically expired in 2009 and 2010 respectively and have been funded through other means, sends a critical message that our first responders must have all resources available in their efforts to defend local communities and the state as a whole. The AFG program provides funding to local fire departments to help them improve the effectiveness of firefighting operations. These include specialized emergency training for response to situations like terrorist attacks; enhancement of emergency medical services programs; development of health and safety initiatives; establishment of fire education and prevention programs; creation of wellness and fitness programs; and equipment and facility upgrades. Most importantly, the reauthorization would allow for local and state entities to apply for economic hardship waivers for both AFG and SAFER assistance if there is a need for improved firefighter programs but there will be difficulty to meet the matching requirement. The SAFER program is intended to support the hiring of firefighters and the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters. SAFER grants are administered to enhance the ability of grantees to attain and maintain 24-hour staffing and to assure that their communities have adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards. The objective of the Hiring of Firefighters activity is to award grants directly to volunteer, combination, and career fire departments to help the departments increase the number of frontline firefighters. The objective of the Recruitment and Retention of Volunteer Firefighters activity is to enlist and/or retain volunteer firefighters who are trained in the operations of firefighting and emergency response. AFG funding is administered by the Department of Homeland Security in cooperation with the Department’s United States Fire Administration. The grants are awarded on a competitive basis to the applicants that most closely address the program’s priorities and demonstrate financial need. More information on the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program can be accessed at www.fema.gov/firegrants. Schumer helped create the original Grants to Firefighters Program, co-sponsoring legislation in 2001 that led to its establishment. This program was passed with bi-partisan support including Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT,) Senator John McCain (R-AZ,) Senator Susan Collins (R-ME,) and many others. The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program was established to provide funding to career and volunteer fire departments and non-affiliated emergency medical services providers to help with the rising costs of equipment, vehicles and training. Schumer also co-sponsored the 2004 re-authorization, which set full funding levels for the program at $1 billion in FY 2007. In the Capitol Region: Last month, Schumer presented flags flown over the U.S. Capitol to the Joint Technical Rescue Team, comprised of members of the Clinton Heights, East Greenbush, Melrose and Poestenkill Fire Departments. These 24 firefighters were deployed to Long Island the day before Superstorm Sandy hit. As part of a 72-hour shift, these firefighters successfully executed 31 swift water rescues and seven pet rescues necessitated by the storm. The same rescuers helped in a similar fashion last year in response to Tropical Storms Irene and Lee, executing 121 rescues. In both cases, much of the equipment used was purchased through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program, which Schumer helped create in 2001.
In Western New York: Erie County sent approximately 30 volunteer firefighters down to Long Island to man five Swift-Water Rescue Teams as a result of Sandy. They came from Alden, Getzville, Williamsville, Vigilant, East Seneca, Winchester, Lake Erie Beach, Blasdell, and Hamburg Fire Departments. Westfield Fire Department also sent two firefighters with a 16-foot cube truck of first responder gear and supplies to Glendale in Queens. They sent 76 turnout coats, 50 pairs of turnout pants, 29 helmets, 12 pairs of boots, six air packs, five EMS jumpsuits, two cold water rescue suits, one stokes rescue basket, and one gurney pad. The equipment was collected from the Chautauqua County Office of Emergency Services and fire departments throughout Chautauqua County.
In the Southern Tier: The Vestal Fire Department sent a rescue crew to assist the Oceanside FD in Nassau during Hurricane Sandy, and they were also of critical value during Lee recovery. Heavy Rescue teams from Owego, Apalachin, Tioga Center and Waverly deployed to the Long Beach area, and the Ithaca Fire Department also sent Swift-Water Rescue. The Dryden, McLean, Freeville and Varna departments sent two heavy rescues and three storm emergency fire units. In Steuben County, Bath and South Corning sent Swift-Water rescue teams. And in Allegany County, the Cuba Fire Department sent a heavy rescue team.
In Central New York: Onondaga County Fire Departments in Baldwinsville, the Town of Lysander, Cicero, Navarino, East Syracuse, Mattydale, and City of Syracuse were deployed to Rockland, Greene, Delaware, Tioga and Schoharie during the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in the fall of 2011. Cayuga County sent 14 firefighters to Rockaway and Queens as part of a Swift-water Rescue Team. Cortland deployed rescue efforts after Sandy, Irene and Lee, using AFG equipment.
In the Rochester-Finger Lakes region: The West Webster FD sent a pumper and three men down to Mastic Beach on Long Island for a week to assist in recovery efforts. The Webster Fire Department also sent a pumper downstate. The North Greece Fire Department sent six firefighters down to Freeport to assist after Sandy for a 5-day stretch. The North Greece Department is now collecting food and other items through this week to send to Freeport. The Sea Breeze Volunteer Fire Department collected food and clothing and hauled 4 truckloads of stuff. They made stops in Staten Island, Rockaway Beach and Long Beach, emptied their trucks and turned right back around to make a second trip. They also brought equipment to the Breezy Point Fire Department in Rockaway Beach, which lost most of its equipment and vehicles in the flooding.
In the Hudson Valley: During both Sandy and Lee, first responders from the Vista, South Salem and Goldens Bridge fire departments, as well as from the Lewisboro Volunteer Ambulance Corps volunteered. The Walden Fire Department was dispatched through the mutual aid system of Orange County 911 on Oct. 31 to assist on Long Island for 72 hours. Seven Walden firefighters, with an engine and a chief’s vehicle, were dispatched to Island Park Fire Dept., along with a crew from the West Point Fire Dept. Other Orange County fire companies, totaling approximately 56 volunteer firemen, were also dispatched to the same area of Long Island.
Below is a region by region breakdown of the fire departments that have received AFG and SAFER funding since 2009:
- In the Capital Region, 61 fire departments have been awarded grants, totaling $5.4 million.
- In Western New York, 50 fire departments have been awarded grants, totaling $6.9 million.
- In the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region, 61 fire departments have been awarded grants, totaling $7.4 million.
- In the Southern Tier, 56 fire departments have been awarded grants, totaling $7.1 million.
- In Central New York, 40 fire departments have been awarded grants, totaling $6.1 million.
- In the Hudson Valley, 56 fire departments have been awarded grants, totaling a $15.1 million.
- In the North Country, 52 fire departments have been awarded grants, totaling $3.4 million.