Senate agrees on USFA, FIRE and SAFER grants reauthorization

The House and Senate versions must be hammered out in joint committee meetings

WASHINGTON — Thursday evening the Senate unanimously accepted an amendment to reauthorize the FIRE and SAFER grant programs and the U.S. Fire Administration through fiscal year 2017.

This amendment was offered by Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and Robert Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.) to S. 3254, the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

A full description of the FIRE and SAFER provisions can be found on the IAFC fact sheet, which summarizes this agreement.

"This is an important victory for America’s fire and emergency service," said Chief Hank Clemmensen, the International Association of Fire Chief's president and chairman. "Fire service organizations and their allies in Congress worked many years to bring this legislation to fruition."

The amendment includes a number of major reforms, including ensuring a larger percentage of funding for fire prevention and safety, a large award size for larger jurisdiction, and establishing economic hardship waivers for communities that have responder requirements, but cannot meet the required local match.

This amendment is consistent with an agreement reached earlier this year by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

"We are very grateful to Sen. Lieberman and the co-sponsors of this amendment for working diligently to bring reauthorization of these programs one step closer to reality," said Bill Webb, executive director of the Congressional Fire Service Institute.

As a condition of the amendment’s passage, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) insisted on a provision that would sunset the FIRE and SAFER grant programs in five years.

While it is not ideal, the provision is a typical concession in budget discussions and will be addressed over the years.

The Senate also approved changes to the Public Safety Officers' Benefits program that includes mandatory funding for disability benefits, expanded coverage for some nonprofit EMS providers, and the addition of vascular rupture under the causes of death covered by the Hometown Heroes provision. 

"I thank the IAFC members who supported this critical legislation and the senators who stepped forward to ensure this support for fire departments," Clemmensen said. "I urge Congress to include this amendment in the final version of the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act and President Obama to sign it into law."

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