LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - According to the International Association of Firefighters, fire departments across the country were awarded over 690 million dollars in AFG and SAFER grants. They are grants that help keep fire department operations running. Now, those grants are set to expire in just a couple of weeks and firefighters across the country are worried that if Congress doesn't act fast enough, they'll lose their crucial funding opportunity.
Shannon Meissner, Director of Governmental Affairs for the International Association of Firefighters, said that to continue keeping local fire departments well-funded, Congress need to vote on these grant programs right away. She said that while the Senate has unanimously approved legislation to continue these grants, the House has yet to vote. If they don’t, the existing legislation will expire on January 2, 2018.
“Fire and safety have always had very broad bipartisan support,” said Meissner. “The problem is simply scheduling it for a vote and there is no reason Republican leadership can't do that right now.”
Little Rock Fire Chief, Greg Summers, said that his department has benefited from these grants in the past and it would hurt them to lose opportunities in the future.
“We've been fortunate enough to receive the SAFER grant one year for 18 firefighters and we’ve got some equipment from the AFG grant,” said Summers.
The grants are used to fund a variety of needs including equipment, firetrucks, gear, and training programs. Additionally, some grant money is used for recruitment and retention of firefighters.
Station 24, the new Little Rock fire station that’s set to begin construction in 2018, could also face challenges if these grants aren't available. Richard Morehead, President of Little Rock’s local 34 branch of the International Association of Firefighters, said the money would be helpful to hire firefighters at the new station.
“We would like to try to apply for a grant to staff the new station because our sales tax hasn't been meeting its predictions.” he said.
Meissner said losing the grants could hurt rural fire departments especially hard because they are often struggling for adequate funding.
THV11 reached out to Congressman French Hill’s office to see where he stands on supporting continued funding of the AGF and SAFER grants.
Here is his office’s response:
“These are two programs that Rep. Hill has consistently supported during his time in the House. The funding for the AFG and SAFER programs falls under the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. Every fiscal year that he’s been in Congress, Rep. Hill has written the leadership of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security in support of funding for the AFG and SAFER programs. Our district office also regularly writes letters in support of fire departments’ grant applications for these programs.”