FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 23, 2009

SCHUMER: COMPREHENSIVE PLAN WILL AID FIREFIGHTERS BATTLING DANGEROUS BRUSH FIRES ACROSS ROCKLAND COUNTY; LOCAL FIRE DEPARTMENTS RESPONDED TO 245 BRUSH FIRES IN 2008 ALONE


Schumer's Three Point Plan Will Provide Increased Training, Equipment And Manpower To Local Fire Departments

Brush fires Drain Resources From Local Fire Departments, Require Increased Training And Put Communities At Risk

Fire Near Harriman State Park Charred 100 Acres, Requiring Firefighters From Seven Companies in Rockland County To Contain

After a brush fire near Harriman State Park consumed 100 acres of land, requiring firefighters from seven companies to battle it, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced today his comprehensive plan to help battle the brush fires that have become a growing problem in Rockland county, threatening both homes and scenic areas and draining resources from local fire departments.  His three point plan will increase funding available to fire departments for specialized equipment, provide for increased training in the methods of fighting brush fires and help maintain adequate staffing levels in both paid and volunteer fire departments.  Today, Schumer called for: increased funding for the US Forest Service’s State Fire Assistance and Volunteer Fire Assistance Programs; increased funding for a federal grant program that helps local fire department buy expensive equipment; and detailed his legislation to increase volunteer firefighter recruitment and prevent layoffs at paid departments. 

 

“Everyone knows that brush fires are dangerous, but they become deadly when localities don’t have the resources or manpower to put them out” said Schumer.  “These programs will increase funding for equipment, training and staff to help fire departments across Rockland County and the Hudson Valley to fight brush fires effectively and efficiently, and help prevent the loss of lives and property.”

 

Over the past several months, brush fires have spread throughout Rockland County and the Hudson Valley, scorching hundreds of acres and in some cases coming within a few hundred feet of homes. Brush fires drain the resources of local fire departments and take manpower away from battling structure fires in homes and businesses. They have become increasingly problematic in Rockland County. This month’s brush fire near Harriman State Park consumed 100 acres of land before it was brought under control. 

 

According to the NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control, over the last four years there have been a total of 874 brush fires in Rockland County, with 245 fires in 2008 alone. Over the same period of time, according to the NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control, there have been 849 brush fires in Westchester County and 293 brush fires in Putnam County.

 

Brush fires spread quickly and can jump gaps, such as roads, rivers and fire breaks. Prevention and suppression strategies have varied over the years, but firefighters have always been the first line of defense when it comes to preventing brush fires.

 

Due to the growing number of brush fires, it is ever more important for local fire departments to have proper equipment, training and adequate staffing levels to help protect the community.

 

In an effort to help fire departments secure the staff and resources they need to effectively combat brush fires, Schumer today announced his three point plan to increase funding available to fire departments to increase training, purchase specialized equipment, and maintain adequate staffing levels in both paid and volunteer fire departments. Schumer’s plan would increase funding for three programs already in existence: the US Forest Service’s State Fire Assistance Program (SFA), the Volunteer Fire Assistance Program (VFA) and the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG) to help pay for fire fighter training and equipment. To help maintain adequate staffing levels, Schumer is also co-sponsoring legislation to amend the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant to help fire departments retain and hire staff, and he is introducing legislation to provide a $1,000 tax credit to volunteer firefighters help boost enrollment numbers.

 

Senator Schumer’s three point plan would help firefighters in the following areas:

 

Training:

 

Schumer today called for an increase in funding to $1.2 million for two programs, the US Forest Service’s State Fire Assistance Program (SFA) and the Volunteer Fire Assistance Program (VFA). Previously these programs had only receieved $600,000. The SFA provides federal, financial and technical support directly to the states to enhance firefighting capacity, support community-based hazard mitigation, and expand outreach and education to homeowners and communities concerning fire prevention.  The VFA, formerly known as the Rural Community Fire Protection (RCFP) Program, provides federal financial, technical, and other assistance to New York to organize and train fire departments in areas with low population density to suppress fires. In New York, the Department of Environmental Conservation uses funds provided through these programs to run training programs geared specifically towards fighting brush fires, and increased funding would allow this training to be expanded and more comprehensive. 

 

 

 

Equipment:

 

Schumer has long been an advocate for firefighters. In October 2000, Schumer co-sponsored the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (FIRE) Act to make federal grants available to fire departments to provide much needed firefighting equipment, resources and fire prevention education programs. Between FY2001 and FY2009 Rockland County received over $1.1 billion in Assistance to Firefighters grants. Westchester County received over $7.7 million and Putnam County received nearly $1 million during that same time period. Today, Schumer announced that he amended the FY 2010 budget resolution to expand this program and increase funding to at least $1 billion a year.  Currently the program will only be able to dispense $565 million this year to departments across the country.  Schumer will be working with President Obama and the congress to increase funding to this vital program even further.  

 

Staff:

 

The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program was created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter organizations in order to help them increase the number of trained, "front-line" firefighters available in their communities. Senator Schumer is co-sponsoring legislation with Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) so that fire departments receiving a SAFER grant in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 are able to also use the grants to prevent lay-offs and rehire positions that may have been cut due to the sluggish economy.

 

Senator Schumer also announced that he will be introducing legislation to provide a tax credit of $1,000 for volunteer firefighters that would serve as an important recruitment tool for local groups to boost enrollment numbers to help maintain adequate staffing levels. If enacted, the proposal would provide a $1,000 federal tax credit to individuals who are active members of volunteer fire departments and emergency service crews. Under the tax credit, any taxpayer who is a volunteer firefighter for at least six months is entitled to a refundable federal tax credit of $1,000.

 

Schumer added, “This plan will ensure that firefighters in Rockland County and across the Hudson Valley have access to the equipment, training and personnel they need to keep residents safe from brush fires or any other emergency.”

 

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