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Senate Advances SAFER/FIRE Reauthorization

November 30, 2012 -- One of the IAFF’s top legislative priorities for the lame duck session of Congress is one step closer to enactment. On November 29, the Senate voted unanimously to reauthorize and improve the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) and Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE Act) grant programs.

The vote, on an amendment to the annual defense bill, S. 3254, offered by Senators Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tom Carper (D-DE), capped a long and intense lobbying effort by the IAFF.

The IAFF faced numerous obstacles to securing a vote on the amendment, with some senators reluctant to allow it to move forward and a last-minute filibuster threat from Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). With limited time permitted for votes, speed proved crucial. IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger lobbied key senators throughout the day, working with Senators Lieberman and Harry Reid to come to an agreement and allowing the amendment to advance.

The amendment itself makes numerous improvements to the SAFER and FIRE Act grant programs to assure that the programs continue to work effectively and better benefit professional fire departments.

Under the current allocation system for the FIRE Act, the overwhelming majority of funds are awarded to fire departments that protect a relatively small percentage of the population. The amendment rectifies this inequity by ensuring professional fire departments receive a more equitable share of the grants. The amendment also decreases the local match, and increases the size of the grant awarded, allowing the very largest departments to receive a FIRE Act grant of up to $9 million.

The amendment also makes significant improvements to the SAFER grant program.

It simplifies the local match under SAFER and raises the cap on awards, making it easier for local municipalities to afford a grant. Critically, the amendment also makes permanent the SAFER waivers, allowing communities facing economic hardship to continue availing themselves of the program.

In addition to its improvements to the SAFER and FIRE Act grant programs, the amendment also includes a second IAFF priority - the Fire Fighter Fatality Reduction Act - to improve fire department compliance with NFPA standards for staffing, training, personal protective equipment and health and fitness.

The amendment’s passage follows an overwhelming vote earlier in the week to improve the Public Safety Officers Benefit (PSOB), also included in the defense bill.

While the Senate vote appears to have laid the foundation for final approval, work remains before the amendment can become law. Because the House version of the defense bill does not contain language related to the SAFER and FIRE Act programs, a House-Senate conference committee will need to agree to include it in the final version that is sent to the president for his signature.

The IAFF will continue working to ensure the amendment is included in the final bill.

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