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HAAS Alert Goes to DC

Last week, I had the opportunity to represent HAAS Alert with the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) and the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) for the National Fire and Emergency Services Symposium in Washington D.C. The purpose of this gathering is vital to communities around the country, but it’s not well known to most Americans, so I want to share a little about what happened and why it matters so much.

Every year, fire departments around the country rely on a combination of federal grants, local taxpayers, and everyday American volunteerism and bravery to function successfully. Approximately 80% of local fire departments count on federal funding to cover the costs of operations that municipalities can’t cover. Without this funding, communities are at risk for detrimental effects in response to health and safety issues. In particular, Urban Search and Rescue teams, which are 100% volunteer, rely on this funding to cover the equipment they use to protect citizens. These volunteers can be deployed at a moment’s notice and pulled away from their paying jobs for up to 28 days. The dedication shown by the members of these teams is incredible, and the federal funding they do receive doesn’t even go towards their salaries – it just covers the cost of keeping their equipment up to date.

There are two grants that CFSI works to secure and protect every year. The SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant covers the cost of training and paying for front-line firefighters, and the AFG (Assistance to Firefighters Grant) covers the cost of critical resources like equipment. These are some of the best-managed grants in existence today, and a full 95% of the funds allocated actually reach the departments instead of going to administrative overhead costs. They’re also not free handouts – they’re 50% matching grants, which means that communities are contributing as much as they’re seeking in support.

These grants are more important than ever; as gear and equipment have become more sophisticated, their associated costs have increased. Firefighters rely on these tools to save lives, protect drivers, and even prevent cancer, and the manufacturers of these tools employ thousands of people across the country. Unfortunately, funding for these grants is inadequate. The last time these grants were properly funded and expanded was in the period following September 11, and they’re due for a refresh. Once a year, the CFSI delegation travels to Washington D.C. to advocate for increasing these grants to their previous levels. CFSI and FAMA formally sought $405 million per grant, and while we didn’t get the full amount requested, we were able to secure $350 million for each one.

Most of the elected officials from our home state of Illinois made themselves available to our delegation and were eager to hear what they could do to help support the SAFER and AFG grants. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised to learn just how many Congressional members and Senators were already members of CFSI. The members that we didn’t meet and that weren’t already a part of CFSI were equally receptive to joining and expressed gratitude for the attention the delegation brought to this issue, because they truly care about the issue and support the funding. In particular, we want to thank the following leaders and their staff members for meeting with us:

  • Senator Tammy Duckworth

  • Senator Dick Durbin

  • Congressman Mike Bost

  • Congressman Daniel Lapinski

  • Congressman Adam Kinzinger

  • Congressman Rodney Davis

  • Congresswoman Robin Kelly

  • Congressman Jesús "Chuy" García

  • Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky

We came away confident that there is bipartisan support across the country to continue funding. Our leaders understand how critical this funding is for local fire departments. While we aren’t where we need to be just yet in making sure these grants are fully funded, we’re grateful to our elected officials for not removing more and doing their best to support our Nation’s volunteers. There’s more work to be done, and HAAS Alert is committed to doing our part in the months and years ahead.

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