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Friday, January 25, 2013

Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response: The SAFER Grant Program



Lennard G. Kruger
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

In response to concerns over the adequacy of firefighter staffing, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Act, known as the SAFER Act, was enacted by the 108th Congress as Section 1057 of the FY2004 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 108-136). The SAFER Act authorizes grants to career, volunteer, and combination local fire departments for the purpose of increasing the number of firefighters to help communities meet industry-minimum standards and attain 24-hour staffing to provide adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards. Also authorized are grants to volunteer fire departments for recruitment and retention of volunteers. SAFER is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

With the economic turndown adversely affecting budgets of local governments, concerns arose that modifications to the SAFER statute may be necessary to enable fire departments to more effectively and affordably participate in the program. Since FY2009, annual appropriations bills have contained provisions that waive certain provisions of the SAFER statute. These provisions included the length of the grant, maintenance of expenditure requirements, local matching requirements, and grant caps. The waivers served to reduce the financial obligation on SAFER grant recipients, and allowed SAFER grants to be used to rehire laid-off firefighters and to fill positions lost through attrition.

Under the existing SAFER statute, the program was authorized through FY2010. The 112
th Congress enacted the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-239), which reauthorized SAFER through FY2017; altered the grant distribution formula among career, volunteer, combination, and paid-on-call fire departments; raised available funding for higher population areas; and permanently addressed waiver issues previously addressed in annual appropriations legislation.

Meanwhile, the Administration’s FY2013 budget proposed $670 million for firefighter assistance, including $335 million for SAFER and $335 million for Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG). Both the House-passed FY2013 appropriations bill (H.R. 5855) and the Senate Appropriations Committee bill (S. 3216) provided $675 million ($337.5 million for SAFER and $337.5 million for AFG). The Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2013 (P.L. 112-175) funds firefighter assistance programs through the first six months of FY2013 at an increase of 0.612% of the FY2012 level. Therefore, under the FY2013 continuing resolution, AFG is funded at $339.5 million and SAFER is funded at $339.5 million through March 2013.

The 113
th Congress will likely consider FY2013 and FY2014 budget appropriations for SAFER. As is the case with many federal programs, concerns over the federal budget deficit could impact budget levels. At the same time, firefighter assistance budgets will likely receive heightened scrutiny from the fire community, given the local budgetary cutbacks that many fire departments are now facing. The 113th Congress will also likely examine the impact of new SAFER hiring grant guidelines mandated by P.L. 112-239, the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2012. The continuing issue is how effectively grants are being distributed and used to protect the health and safety of the public and firefighting personnel against fire and fire-related hazards. .


Date of Report: January 11, 2013
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RL33375
Price: $29.95

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