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There has been a call to action from fire officials in Alabama who want to continue receiving federal grant money for equipment and staffing. With higher prices and less availability of equipment and fewer people interested in first responder jobs, Gene Coleman said Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants are necessary.

“For several years, these programs have helped departments across the nation,” said Coleman. “We’re just trying to make sure that funding is sustained.”

The programs are scheduled to sunset in 2024, but concerned groups would like them to be extended to at least 2030.

U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, introduced the legislation, The Fire Grants and Safety Act (S. 4882), to extend the programs and add funds to support state officials who collect data.

Coleman is the vice president of the Jefferson County Association of Fire Departments. He also works with the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs (SEAFC) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). Coleman said he has been speaking with local mayors and fire chiefs about the programs and the pending legislation.

“We want them to contact their local senator’s offices and ask them to support this,” Coleman added.

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Assistance to Firefighters Grants are awarded to fire departments, state fire training academies and emergency medical service organizations for equipment, apparatus and training. As of Sept. 28, 2022, FEMA had made 1,840 awards totaling $324.8 million in fiscal year 2022.

SAFER provides matching funds for personnel over a five-year period, allowing departments to hire additional personnel.

“It helps in recruitment and retention,” Coleman explained. “There is a mechanism for those recruitment and retention programs. Without it, the funding may not be available to hire additional firefighters and paramedics.”

Additrionally, S. 4882 would allocate $95 million to upgrade data collection. Data is another concern Coleman said he has in Alabama.

“We’re not really good at collecting data,” said Coleman. “Our system hasn’t been updated since I think the 70s. These are things such as the number of fire deaths we’ve had.”

The $95 million would allow the USFA to replace the National Fire Data Center and examine the cause of the origin of major fires, as well as make recommendations to prevent future fires.

The president and chair of the Board of the IAFC, Chief Donna Black, said she will be working with lawmakers to pass the legislation.

“I would like to thank Senator Peters and Senator Portman for introducing this important legislation,” said Black. “The AFG and SAFER grants provide federal matching funds directly to local fire and EMS departments to help them provide lifesaving service [to] their communities. In addition, the U.S. Fire Administration is an important federal partner for local fire departments for data, training, and fire prevention.”

Coleman stressed his hope that people contact their local U.S. senators to voice their support for the legislation.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email erica.thomas@1819news.com.

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