Updated: 11-07-2003 03:47:55 PM

Fed Bill To Fund Firefighters Passes House

Office of U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ, 8th)

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell today joined colleagues in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate to announce the inclusion of the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Resources) Act as an amendment in the final version of the Fiscal Year 2004 National Defense Authorization, which passed the House of Representatives today.

The Senate could approve the bill early next week. It would then go to the White House and President Bush for his signature.

The SAFER Act of 2003 amends the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974 to require the establishment of an office within the United States Fire Administration to administer a grant program to make direct four-year grants to State career, volunteer, and combination fire departments for staff increases.

The Safer Act authorizes The Administrator of the U.S. Fire Administration to award $7.6 billion over seven years in annual grants for the purpose of hiring, recruiting and retaining career and volunteer firefighters to help communities meet industry minimum standards and attain 24-hour staffing to provide adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards, including acts of terrorism.

Ten percent of the total amount appropriated for SAFER are reserved for Recruitment and Retention Grants to enhance the number of volunteer firefighters and at least ten percent of the remaining funds are guaranteed for hiring firefighters at volunteer and majority volunteer departments. Any unused amounts are transferred to the Recruitment and Retention Grants.

Grants will be awarded directly to career, volunteer and combination fire departments on the basis of need, modeled after the highly successful Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE Act) Grant Program.

No fire department who accepts funds under this Act may penalize or discriminate against firefighters who chose to volunteer in other jurisdictions during off-duty hours.

SAFER Hiring Grants will last for a period of four years and will be increasingly matched by local dollars to wean local governments from being dependent upon the federal government. Departments must commit to retaining newly acquired firefighters for one year past the termination of the grant. Employment applications must also specify long-term plans for retaining newly attained firefighters.

The total four year grant for hiring a firefighter may not exceed $100,000; adjusted annually. Authority for the grant program sunsets after 10 years from the date of enactment. SAFER Hiring Grant funds must not be used to supplant existing federal, State or local resources.

"We used the Department of Defense Authorization as a vehicle to pass the SAFER Act, which authorizes money for personnel for fire departments throughout the country,