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WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) made the following statement on the House Floor in favor of the Sabo-Weldon-Hoyer Amendment to the FY06 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill, which will add $25 million for the SAFER program and $25 million for the Fire Grants program. Congressman Hoyer organized a letter earlier this year to the House Appropriations Committee in support of the SAFER program that had the signatures of 120 bipartisan members. The amendment was included in the bill by voice vote, and the bill is expected to pass the House today:
“I would like to thank Martin Sabo and Curt Weldon for their leadership not only on this amendment, but on so many issues of importance to our nation’s fire service. I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to Chairman Rogers for his support of our first responders and his assistance in bringing this important amendment to the floor. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not recognize the contributions Bill Pascrell has made to our nation’s firefighters, notably his authoring of the original legislation to establish the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.
“Mr. Chairman, this amendment provides much needed increases to both the Fire Grant and SAFER Programs, and moves us closer to fulfilling our obligation to ensure that our nation’s firefighters have at their disposal every resource possible to not only guarantee their own safety, but also to allow them to better serve each of our communities.
“The $25 million we add to each of these accounts brings the funding in the bill to $650 million -- $575 million for Fire Grants and $75 million for SAFER. This is $150 million above the level requested by the president, and is a reflection of Congress’s commitment to ensuring that our fire departments are properly staffed, trained and equipped.
“But these amounts are still well below the authorized levels, and far from meeting the needs of the fire service, and we will continue working to increase the funding levels for each of these programs, both this year and in the future.
“The Fire Grant Program was established by Congress in 2000, through the leadership of Bill Pascrell, Curt Weldon, and so many others, to meet the basic equipment, training and firefighter safety requirements of America’s fire service, and to bring all fire departments to a baseline of readiness to respond to all hazards.
“The Fire Grant Program has been a tremendous success, providing more than $3 billion for infrared cameras, hazmat detection devices, modern breathing apparatuses, improved training and physical fitness programs, new turnout gear, fire trucks, and interoperable communications equipment, to name but a few items.
“The simple fact is that the equipment and training provided by these grants have saved the lives of firefighters and average citizens in communities across America, and I am proud to have played a role in establishing and funding this program.
“The SAFER program, authorized two years ago and funded for the first time last year, is a vital complement to the Fire Grant Program because insufficient staffing, defined by the national fire protection association as fewer than four firefighters per apparatus, is a very real problem for far too many of the nation’s career and volunteer fire departments.
“Responding with fewer than four firefighters per apparatus prevents the first responder unit from complying with OSHA’s ‘2-in/2-out’ standard for safe fireground operation, and adds unnecessary risk to the already dangerous job of fire suppression.
“NFPA estimates that an additional 75,000 firefighters are required across the country, and the additional funding we provide today will help move us closer to achieving that goal.
“Mr. Chairman, we have an obligation to provide our firefighters with the necessary resources to perform their jobs as safely and effectively as possible.
“With the adoption of this amendment, and our continued support of the Fire Grant and SAFER programs, we fulfill this obligation and say to our firefighters ‘we recognize the sacrifices you make on our behalf every day, the inherent danger of your job, and that we want to make sure you can do that job as safely and effectively as possible.’
“Again, I thank Chairman Rogers for accepting this amendment, and for his leadership and continued support of the nation’s firefighters.”