SCHUMER ANNOUNCES: NASSAU AND SUFFOLK TO RECEIVE SOUGHT AFTER FEMA FUNDING FOR VITAL VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER TUITION PROGRAM; WILL ENCOURAGE YOUNGER PEOPLE TO BECOME VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS AT A TIME WHEN FIREFIGHTERS ARE IN SHORTER SUPPLY
As FEMA Prepares Funding Awards for Report To Congress, Schumer Urges Administrator Fugate to Fully Fund Nassau and Suffolk for Full $4 Million - Long Island Program Could Serve as a National Model for Volunteer Fire Departments Landmark Program Used as a Recruiting Tool - If a Student at any Nassau or Suffolk College Joins a Volunteer Fire or EMS Squad They Can Receive Nearly $4,000 per Year to Cover Tuition Schumer: Volunteer Firefighter Tuition Assistance Program a W
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that Nassau and Suffolk County have been chosen to receive federal funding to create an incentive for college students to sign up as volunteer firefighters across Long Island and is urging FEMA to recommend full funding of $4 million for the program. Both Nassau and Suffolk Counties have qualified and been chosen for FEMA's SAFER grant award for volunteer firefighter recruitment, Schumer said. Schumer urged Administrator Fugate to fund each County at their full grant request of $1.6 million for Nassau and $2.5 million for Suffolk.
The funding will help support and expand Nassau and Suffolk County's volunteer firefighter tuition assistance program. Under the program, any student enrolled at a college in Nassau or Suffolk County who joins up with a participating volunteer fire or EMS squad could receive thousands of dollars toward tuition. To qualify for tuition assistance, the applicant must be a new or active member in a volunteer fire department or EMS squad, be accepted for enrollment in a college in Nassau or Suffolk County, and maintain a solid grade point average. Both counties have authorized the creation of the program, but both are unfunded due to the budget shortfalls. The funding Schumer is calling for from the federal fire grant program will help get the programs moving. Over the course of the last few months, Schumer has met and spoke directly with FEMA Administrator Fugate to highlight the importance of these recruiting grants for Long Island.
"This funding will help recruit a new wave of local fire fighters and first responders to keep our communities safe, will help middle class families pay for college, and it will ease the burden on local taxpayers by encouraging more people to volunteer," Schumer said. "By providing students with an incentive to volunteer as a firefighter or an EMS worker, we will not only be taking a financial burden off of the students backs, but we will also be helping Nassau and Suffolk County during these tough economic times."
"Our firefighters, EMS, and auxiliary police not only put themselves in danger to protect us, but also act with selfless dedication," said Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano. "I thank Senator Schumer for working to obtain the necessary funds to provide tuition assistance to our emergency volunteers while enhancing recruitment and retention efforts."
For the program, an applicant must be a resident of Nassau or Suffolk County and be a new or active member in a volunteer fire department or EMS squad, be accepted for enrollment as a matriculated student, either part time or full time, in a college in Nassau or Suffolk County, and maintain a passing grade as determined by that college. If the applicant maintains these standards and has been accepted into the program, they shall be eligible to be reimbursed for their college tuition in an amount not to exceed that rate for the local community college. This rate is currently $1,811 per semester in Nassau and $1,788 per semester in Suffolk. The Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services Department and Nassau County Office of Emergency Management will be the administrators of the programs and will last for four years.
In 2009 the Nassau County legislature unanimously authorized the Nassau County office of Emergency Management to create a recruitment and retention program for volunteer emergency workers. Specified in the local law is a program for College Tuition Reimbursement. It also authorized the application for grant funds to achieve this program. This program was modeled after the existing and highly successful Suffolk County program.
The Suffolk County program, previously funded in 2006 with a SAFER recruitment grant, showed remarkable results in bringing young people into the volunteer fire departments. When SAFER funded Recruitment initiatives began to rollout in 2007, Suffolk experienced an amazing rate of 7 prospective volunteers entering into the program daily. However, this annual rate of 2,500 new volunteers per year declined when the funding expired.
The inability of Nassau or Suffolk County to fund the program presented the very real possibility of continued declines in the number of volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel. Like many local governments, both Counties have faced backbreaking budget gaps with the recent downturn in the economy.
Because of the overall cost of living in Long Island and the high taxes, many people work multiple jobs and most traditional families have two wage earners. This has resulted in a decrease in the overall volunteerism in Long Island and has especially hit the volunteer fire and EMS services hard. In January 2006, Nassau County had a total active volunteer firefighter force of 9,479. Since that time the active volunteer firefighter force has shrunk by 1.8% to a total of 9,311 as of January 2009.
During normal working hours many departments in Long Island are finding it more and more difficult to get members to turn out for calls; this is especially true for EMS calls. This appears to be because of two major factors. First, because of the proximity from Long Island to Manhattan, many volunteer firefighters commute to jobs in New York City and are physically unable to respond, and second, because many of the younger firefighter have had to leave the Island due to the high cost of living.
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (SAFER) was created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations in order to help themincrease the number of trained, "front line" firefighters available in their communities. The goal of SAFER is to enhance the local fire departments' abilities to comply with staffing, response and operational standards established by the NFPA and OSHA.
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