Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - 2:00pm
2318 Rayburn House Office Building
Opening Statement By Chairman David Wu
Good afternoon. Today the Subcommittee will consider H.R. 3791, the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2009. This bill reauthorizes programs that provide critical resources to fire departments across the country. At a time when many cities and towns are facing major budget shortfalls and cuts in services, federal support to fire departments is crucial to public safety.
This bill reauthorizes the Assistance to Firefighters Grants program—or AFG—and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program, known as SAFER.
Since the AFG program was created in 2000, nearly $5 billion has gone directly to fire departments to purchase equipment, training, fire trucks, and other resources. AFG also supports fire prevention and safety grants, which are used for smoke detectors, fire prevention education, and research to reduce the causes of fire and fire-related injury and death. In 1973, nearly 12,000 Americans died each year in fires. We have made significant strides in reducing this number, but still over 3,000 people annually still die in fires, and over 16,000 are injured. The AFG program has been an essential component of our efforts to reduce fire-related injuries and fatalities.
The SAFER program provides funds to help fire departments hire personnel so that they can respond as quickly as possible to a fire with enough firefighters to meet the staffing levels that the firefighting community has deemed safe. The program has provided nearly $700 million to local fire departments in the past four years, funding that is especially critical during these difficult economic times.
The Subcommittee has been working on this legislation in cooperation with the major fire service organizations since the spring, and this bill reflects the needs and priorities identified by fire service experts in a Technology and Innovation Subcommittee hearing this July. Both Ranking Member Smith and I have been working closely with all of the stakeholders to ensure that their needs and concerns are addressed. This bill would not have been possible without the work and cooperation of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the National Volunteer Fire Council, the National Fire Protection Association, and the Congressional Fire Services Institute. I am very pleased that everybody pulled together to ensure that we have legislation that will benefit the constituents of every Member of Congress. I strongly support this bill and urge a yes vote.
I will now yield to the Ranking Member, Mr. Smith.