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The Federal Assistance To Firefighters Grant Program Is A Critical Resource For Fire Departments Across NYS To Purchase New Trucks, Safety Gear & More; In 2018, Only 26% Of NYS Apps Got Funded; Schumer Says That’s Too Low Given Need & Size Of State

Schumer Just Secured Combined $355M In Fed Budget For Program Local Heroes Use To Purchase Lifesaving Equipment; And Now He’s Sounding The Alarm So NY Can Get Its Fair Share

Schumer: It’s Not A Fire Drill To Say That Capital Region First Responders Who Save Lives & Fight Fires Deserve Greater Share Of Fed Funds

Standing at the Johnstown Fire Department alongside courageous Fulton County first responders on the final day of his annual 62-county tour of New York State, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed that, alarmingly, only 26% of NY fire departments’ applications to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) vital Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program applications are awarded, with the national rate being a mere 22%. The AFG program provides federal funding to career and volunteer fire departments to purchase life-saving and modern equipment, such as self-contained breathing apparatuses, fire trucks and new protective gear for firefighters. Schumer argued that with only about ¼ of New York’s applications being approved, fire departments across the state are being constrained and possibly entering dangerous situations with outdated or failing equipment, putting the safety of New Yorkers at risk. Schumer also announced he just secured $355 million for the program locals need in the just-passed federal spending package, but he said this isn’t nearly enough, and vowed to fight tirelessly to further boost funding for the program in the next fiscal year and more funds for Upstate. Furthermore, Schumer secured $2.5 million for the critical national firefighter cancer registry, which aims to improve collection capabilities and activities related to the nationwide cancer incidence among firefighters, and $355 million for FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program, which provides funding for fire departments to boost their ranks by hiring new career firefighters, or recruiting and retaining volunteers, and is calling for Upstate NY to receive a larger share of these pots, as well.

“Our brave Capital Region firefighters, who risk their lives every day to protect our communities, deserve to have the state-of-the-art equipment needed to do their jobs safely and effectively. Simply put, the fact that only one-quarter of New York’s applications to the critical Assistance to Firefighters Grant program are approved is unacceptable and means our local departments will not have the equipment they need, putting both first responders and residents at risk,” said Senator Schumer. “We secured $355 million for the program in the federal spending package, but, clearly, this isn’t enough to sufficiently support our firefighters, our local heroes. I’ve fought my whole career to bring more federal resources to our volunteer and career fire departments—and I’ll be working double-time to keep our firefighters and communities safe this year.”

In 2018, New York fire departments submitted a total of 544 applications to the AFG program, with 143 being approved, coming out to an approval rate of 26%. The situation was even worse for NY fire departments in 2017, when 597 applications were submitted and 132 were awarded, for an approval rate of 22%. Nationally, the numbers are just as bad. In 2018, of the 8,441 applications to the AFG program, only 1,834 were approved, coming out to 22%, and in 2017, of the 10,043 applications, only 2,003 were awarded, coming out to 20%. Schumer explained that these numbers not only present a major challenge to firefighters, who often have to do their jobs without modern and effective firefighting equipment, but to public safety across New York, as well.

Over the past few years, AFG’s funding level has remained relatively even. In the recently-passed federal spending package for Fiscal Year 2020, the administration proposed slashing AFG’s funding by $5 million, suggesting it receive $345 million in total. However, Schumer, in Congressional negotiations, adamantly opposed such a cut, and instead secured a $5 million increase for the program for a total of $355 million. In Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019, the program was funded at $350 million. Similarly, funding for the SAFER program has remained relatively steady in recent years. This year, Schumer fought for $355 million for SAFER, up $5 million over last year’s level. Combined, the two programs received $710 million in federal funding for Fiscal Year 2020.

However, back in Fiscal Year 2011, AFG and SAFER received a combined $810 million in funding, $405 million per program. Schumer suggested this was a much more acceptable level of the funding for the firefighter grant programs, and started his push to secure this $100 million boost for them standing alongside Johnstown Fire Chief Bruce Heberer, Mayor of Johnstown Vernon Jackson and firefighters from the Johnstown Fire Department.

Schumer supported the successful Johnstown Fire Department’s AFG application back in 2008, which secured $617,500 to acquire a desperately needed ladder truck.

Schumer has long advocated for first responders. He was an original sponsor of the legislation that created the AFG program back in 1999. Since the grant stream was created in 2000, it has helped municipalities fund firefighter equipment and training, Capital Region fire departments specifically have received millions of dollars for firefighting gear, breathing apparatuses, fire trucks and thermal imaging cameras that can help locate a victim in zero visibility and even find a small electrical fire hidden in a wall. Across the course of its existence, the AFG program has provided fire departments across the United States a total of $8.325 billion in federal funding for new equipment. The Assistance to Firefighters Grants are administered by the Department of Homeland Security Federal Emergency Management Agency in cooperation with the Department's United States Fire Administration. The grants are awarded on a competitive basis to the applicants that most closely address the program's priorities and demonstrate financial need. More information on the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program can be accessed here.

The SAFER grant program was established by FEMA within the Department of Homeland Security to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase 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 National Fire Protection Association and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Since it was established in 2004, it has provided fire departments across the United States a total of $4.235 billion to better help them meet staffing and recruitment needs.

Schumer supported the creation of the national firefighter cancer registry from its earliest stages, traveling from one corner of the state to the other to push the legislation that eventually established it as one of its original cosponsors. It is now maintained and operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after the Schumer-backed legislation was passed establishing it last year. Specifically, he visited the Corning Fire Department, New Rochelle Fire Department, Troy Fire Department, Plattsburgh Fire Department, Saratoga Springs Fire Department, Amsterdam Fire Department, Syracuse Fire Department’s Station 5, Poughkeepsie Fire Department, the Olean Fire Department, Rochester Fire Department, and Buffalo Fire Department between 2016 and 2017, all in support of Upstate New York’s courageous first responders and the need to understand the link between firefighting and cancer.

Specifically, this national firefighter cancer registry does the following:

  • Compiles epidemiological information submitted by healthcare professionals related to cancer incidence among firefighters in one comprehensive database.
  • Makes anonymous data available to public health researchers so that they have access to comprehensive datasets that will allow them to expand groundbreaking research related to firefighting and cancer.
  • Improves understanding of cancer incidence, which could potentially lead to the development of advanced safety protocols and safeguards for firefighters on the front lines each day.
  • Allows for increased collaboration between the CDC and epidemiologists, public health experts, clinicians, and firefighters through regular and consistent consultations to improve the effectiveness and accuracy of the registry.