NVFC Testifies Before Congress Regarding AFG, SAFER, and USFA Reauthorization

On May 11 the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a hearing regarding “Reauthorizing the U.S. Fire Administration and Fire Grant Programs: Evaluating Effectiveness and Preparedness for Modern Challenges.” The National Volunteer Fire Council’s (NVFC) Georgia Director, David Bullard, testified at the hearing on the behalf of the NVFC. The hearing provided a great opportunity for the NVFC to express the importance of reauthorizing Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program, and the United States Fire Administration (USFA).

As a fire lieutenant in the congressional district adjacent to Subcommittee Chairman Mike Collins’s district, Bullard described both local and national needs for AFG and SAFER funding. Bullard described how fire service national needs assessments consistently show how a majority of fire departments nationwide have issues equipping their personnel with basic equipment like turnout gear and self-contained breathing apparatus. He also explained how these issues are experienced most frequently by small volunteer departments.

Bullard testified that the AFG program gives such departments a fighting chance at equipping their firefighters. Due to these significant resource challenges, AFG has been a lifeline for thousands of volunteer and small combination agencies across the country. However, the demand for AFG grants far exceeds the amount of available funding.

Bullard also described the significant staffing challenges facing volunteer fire departments. He explained that some of the largest factors impacting recruitment and retention are lack of opportunities for young people in rural America and the increased mental and physical demands of the job, whether it be increased call volume, the COVID-19 pandemic, or increased training demands.

Like AFG, the demand for SAFER grants to support recruitment and retention is far greater than available funding. One success Bullard highlighted was the SAFER grants the NVFC received to establish and expand the Make Me A Firefighter campaign. This web-based tool provides departments with information and resource to implement recruitment programs and offers an online searchable database of volunteer position listings. To date there are more than 16,250 users have signed up with the campaign, representing more than 9,000 fire departments. More than 5,350 volunteer opportunities are listed and nearly 34,000 applications have been submitted through the campaign web site.

Bullard also expressed to the committee how access to training is a significant challenge for many rural volunteer fire departments and how the USFA through the National Fire Academy makes their training accessible by delivering training directly to individuals on campus, remotely through online course offerings, or through state fire training academies. Bullard said the number of in-state delivery courses in Georgia is remarkable and meets a critical need.

At the conclusion of his testimony Bullard asked the House of Representative to pass a bill reauthorizing AFG, SAFER, and USFA before these authorizations expire at the end of the fiscal year. Bullard also requested that the House pass a bill that keeps the authorizations for AFG and SAFER the same and increases the authorization of USFA by approximately $20 million.

The NVFC looks forward to continuing to work with the House of Representatives to ensure that AFG, SAFER, and USFA are reauthorized as quickly as possible. You can view the hearing here and read Bullard’s testimony here. Learn more about the Make Me A Firefighter campaign at www.makemeafirefighter.org.