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KEY POINTS

FUNDING FOR SAFER

• Two-thirds of fire departments do not meet national standards for safe staffing levels, impairing fire fighters’ ability to adequately protect the public.

• Last year Congress appropriated $115 million for SAFER to help communities hire additional fire fighters, only 11% of the authorized level. While this is a step in the right direction, it is a far cry from the funds actually needed to address staffing shortages nationwide.

• The federal government has provided billions of dollars for emergency responder equipment and training, but without enough fire fighters to make use of this equipment and training, the funding will do little to enhance public safety.

• According to multiple studies by the U.S. Fire Administration, fire departments throughout the nation lack sufficient personnel to respond to many emergency situations. For example, only 11% of fire departments can handle a rescue with EMS at a structural collapse of a building with 50 occupants with their current number of fire fighters.

• Adequate staffing is essential to fire fighter safety. Federal government studies have shown that operating with below minimum staffing is a leading cause of fire fighter fatalities.

• An independent analysis of fire department operations conducted by the Boston Globe found that response time to emergencies in fire departments throughout the nation rose significantly over the past two decades due to lack of personnel.

• SAFER aids volunteer, as well as career, fire departments. 10% of the funding is dedicated for recruitment and retention of volunteer fire fighters and an additional 10% is earmarked for all volunteer or mostly volunteer departments that wish to hire full-time fire fighters.

• Many local governments are currently facing budget shortfalls, which preclude them from hiring needed additional fire fighters. SAFER allows the federal government to provide temporary help to such communities, while requiring them to match federal funds. The program is structured to require communities to make plans to permanently fund the position with local dollars.

• The role of the fire service has transformed from providing local response to an integrated national system that responds to a wide range of local emergencies as well as national disasters. When the country is under attack or when there is a natural disaster, local fire fighters respond. The federal government has a responsibility to help local fire departments protect public safety.

• The federal government currently provides funding to local communities to hire teachers and other local government workers. It should also assist in hiring desperately needed fire fighters.