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