Sen. Chuck Schumer, surrounded by Nassau County fire officials, talked about pushing — as part of this week’s final federal budget deal — to increase funding for grants so that volunteer firefighters are not left without critical resources.
“Our brave firefighters on Long island, who risk their lives every day to protect our communities, deserve to have the state-of-the-art equipment needed to do their jobs safely and effectively,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “Simply put, the persistent shortchanging of the AFG and SAFER grant programs is unacceptable and means our local departments will not have the equipment they need.”
Federal funding for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) and the Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) programs has been steadily decreasing since 2011, Schumer said.
He spoke at a news conference at the Seaford Fire Department on Southard Avenue.
“In 2011,” he said, “they got $810 million combined. In 2015 that was down to $680 million.”
Schumer said that nationwide in 2014, only 22 percent of departments — volunteer and career — that applied for AFG got it, while only 19 percent seeking SAFER got it.
The AFG program provides funding for training, facility upgrades and new equipment, while the SAFER program provides funding for recruitment, protective gear and emergency vehicles.
Both houses of Congress have proposed $680 million for 2016 for both programs, but Schumer said that is not enough.
“In fact, the two programs have received applications requesting an average of $3 billion in funding annually,” he said.
He said that if funding continues to decline, it would be devastating to local fire departments across New York State, “which will be forced to choose between waiting another year and using outdated, potentially dangerous equipment, or purchasing equipment immediately and without federal funding, putting the burden on local taxpayers.”
He said he is pushing for Congress to add another $130 million to the two programs, bringing them back to $810 million.
In 2015, Schumer said, Long Island departments received $1,777,637 in AFG funding and more than $3 million from SAFER.
Raymond Maguire, executive director of the Freeport Fire Department, said “the funding is very important to make sure that our departments have the proper equipment to best respond to the emergencies we’re called to, especially since we are 30 minutes away from New York City, the greatest terrorist target in the world.”
Seaford Fire Department Commissioner Robert Powell also said such funds are “really important.” He added his department had applied for one of the grants last year but didn’t get it.