House Approves Firefighter Cancer Registry Act

(September 13, 2017) – On Tuesday, September 12th, the House approved by voice vote H.R. 931, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act. The bipartisan legislation, introduced by Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) and Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ-9), creates a specialized national registry to provide researchers and epidemiologists with the tools and resources they need to improve research collection activities related to the monitoring of cancer incidence among firefighters.

Studies have indicated a strong link between firefighting and an increased risk of several major cancers, including colon, lung, melanoma, mesothelioma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-melanoma skin cancer, prostate, rectal, testicular, stomach, multiple myeloma and brain cancer. The heightened risk of cancer among firefighters has been attributed to their frequent exposure to a range of harmful toxins.

Unfortunately, studies examining cancer risks among firefighters have been limited by the availability of important data and relatively small sample sizes that have an underrepresentation of women, minorities, and volunteer firefighters. As a result, public health researchers have been unable to fully examine and understand the broader epidemiological cancer trends among firefighters. A specialized national cancer registry would expand access to vital epidemiological data and improve research outcomes.

The bill will now be sent to the Senate for consideration.

Senate Passes Firefighter Grants Reauthorization

(August 3, 2017) – On August 2nd, the Senate approved S. 829, the AFG and SAFER Reauthorization Act, by unanimous consent.  The legislation, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on May 17th, reauthorizes the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG), the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER), and Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) grant programs through Fiscal Year 2023.  Additionally, the legislation removes a “sunset” provision in the current authorizing statute that would eliminate the programs on January 2, 2018.

S. 829 was introduced by Senator John McCain (AZ) and Senator Jon Tester (MT), both co-chairs of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus.  Senator Susan Collins (ME), chair of the Fire Caucus, and Senator Tom Carper, a fellow Fire Caucus co-chair, are original co-sponsors of the legislation.

“We are very grateful to the Senate for taking action to reauthorize these critical, life saving programs that have had such an immense impact in communities across the entire nation,” said Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute.  “The passage of S. 829 is the result of a cooperative and unified effort by the national fire service organizations, as well as persistent grassroots engagement by fire service leaders throughout the country.  We strongly urge the House to approve the Senate bill as soon as they return from the August Congressional recess.”  

On July 12th, the House Science, Technology and Space Committee’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology conducted a hearing on reauthorizing the AFG, SAFER and FP&S grant programs.  Unfortunately, the House adjourned for a five-week district work period before the subcommittee could take action on any legislation.  The House is scheduled to return on September 5th.  

CFSI Releases Fire Service White Paper: Document To Be Shared With Lawmakers To Increase Their Understanding of the Fire and Emergency Services

(July 24, 2017) – The Congressional Fire Services Institute has recently released a white paper that will be distributed to members of Congress and federal agency officials.  The title of the paper is “Understanding the Roles, Challenges, and Needs of Our Nation’s Fire and Emergency Services”.  Thirty-five member organizations of the CFSI National Advisory Committee (NAC) co-signed the paper developed by the CFSI staff and task group comprised of NAC members.

“This document contains important information that we want to share with members of Congress,” said CFSI Executive Director Bill Webb.  “It is intended to educate them about the challenges facing the fire service in protecting our communities and convey the importance of continued federal support for our local fire and emergency services departments.”

The White Paper is available on CFSI’s website.  Fire officials are encouraged to share it with their elected officials when discussing both local and national issues impacting the fire service.  By design, the document is brief, focusing on general information about the fire and emergency services.

Established in 1989, CFSI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy institute.  Its primary mission is to share information with members of Congress about the challenges and needs of our nation’s fire and emergency services to help them understand how certain programs and legislation can benefit our first responders.  The National Advisory Committee is comprised of a broad range of national fire and emergency services organizations.  Convening semi-annually, committee members discuss and develop consensus positions on federal issues that CFSI shares with members of Congress.

A privately-funded organization, CFSI is the host of the annual National Fire and Emergency Services Symposium and Dinner Program that takes place each year in Washington, DC.  Next year marks the 30th anniversary of the event.  Approximately 1,500 fire service leaders from across the country will assemble for the two-day event on April 18 – 19, 2018.  Additional details about the program will be available later in the year.

House Appropriations Committee Approves Fiscal Year 2018 Homeland Security Spending Bill

(July 21, 2017) – On Tuesday, July 18th, the House Appropriations Committee approved legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security for Fiscal Year 2018.  The $44.3 billion spending bill represents a nearly $2 billion increase in spending for the Department compared to the current fiscal year.  

The bill would fund the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs at $690 million, the same amount as the current fiscal year.  The United States Fire Administration (USFA) would receive a slight cut from $44 million for Fiscal Year 2017 to $43.41 million for Fiscal Year 2018.  The Urban Search and Rescue System (USAR) and the State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP) would both be funded at essentially the same levels as the current fiscal year.  The Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) would receive $630 million, an increase of $25 million over the current fiscal year.  

Earlier this year, the White House released a Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal that recommend significant cuts to the USAR, SHSGP and UASI programs.  

House Subcommittee Conducts Hearing on USFA, Firefighter Grant Programs

(July 14, 2017) – On Wednesday, July 12th, the House Science, Technology and Space Committee’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology conducted a hearing to the review the United States Fire Administration (USFA), the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant Program.  The hearing, entitled “U.S. Fire Administration and Fire Grant Programs Reauthorization: Examining Effectiveness and Priorities,” featured witnesses from USFA and a number of national fire service organizations.  CFSI submitted comments for the record, which can be viewed here.

USFA is the lead federal agency for our nation’s fire and emergency services. Its core mission is divided into four program areas: data collection, public education, technology development, and training.  Congress created the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs to address the baseline needs of our nation’s fire and emergency services. These two highly successful programs help ensure that our nation’s more than 30,000 fire departments have the necessary training, equipment, and staffing to respond to over 30 million emergency calls annually, and work to reduce community risk.  Legislation reauthorizing these critical programs is expected to be introduced in the House in the coming weeks.  

On May 17th, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs unanimously approved S. 829, the AFG and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017.  The legislation reauthorizes the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG), the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER), and Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) grant programs through Fiscal Year 2023.  Additionally, the legislation removes a “sunset” provision in the current authorizing statute that would eliminate the programs on January 2, 2018.

House Subcommittee Approves Firefighter Cancer Registry Act

(June 30, 2017) – On Thursday, June 29th, the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved H.R. 931, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act.  The legislation, introduced by Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) and Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ-9), directs the Center for Disease Control to create a specialized national registry to provide researchers and epidemiologists with the tools and resources they need to improve research collection activities related to the monitoring of cancer incidence among firefighters.

Studies have indicated a strong link between firefighting and an increased risk of several major cancers, including colon, lung, melanoma, mesothelioma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-melanoma skin cancer, prostate, rectal, testicular, stomach, multiple myeloma and brain cancer. The heightened risk of cancer among firefighters has been attributed to their frequent exposure to a range of harmful toxins.

Unfortunately, studies examining cancer risks among firefighters have been limited by the availability of important data and relatively small sample sizes that have an underrepresentation of women, minorities, and volunteer firefighters. As a result, public health researchers have been unable to fully examine and understand the broader epidemiological cancer trends among firefighters. A specialized national cancer registry would expand access to vital epidemiological data and improve research outcomes.

H.R. 931 will now go before the full House Energy and Commerce Committee for consideration.  

Senate Confirms Brock Long to Head FEMA

(June 23, 2017) – On Tuesday, June 20th, the Senate voted to confirm the nomination of Brock Long to be the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  Mr. Long has more than 16 years of emergency management experience, including as the Director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency from 2008 -2011.  

FEMA’s mission is to coordinate the federal government’s disaster response, preparedness and mitigation efforts.  The agency oversees the United States Fire Administration and a number of first responder grant programs, including the Assistance to Firefighters and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant programs.  

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved Mr. Long’s nomination by voice vote on June 12th.  The full Senate approved his appointment by a vote of 95-4.

CFSI Participates In BuildStrong Coalition Thought Leaders Forum

(June 9, 2017) – On Wednesday, June 7th, the BuildStrong Coalition hosted the National Thoughts Leaders Forum on Disaster Mitigation Resiliency for a Stronger and Safer America.  The forum, featuring members of Congress, fire service leaders, code and standard organizations, and representatives of the construction and insurance industries, examined the impact strong building codes can have in saving lives and taxpayer dollars and explored incentives for strengthening buildings and mitigating damage from natural disasters.   

Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11), Congressman Lloyd Smucker (PA-16), and Senator Ron Johnson (WI) addressed the forum.  The members of Congress largely focused their comments on the need to reform the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster assistance programs to better protect the public while simultaneously safeguarding taxpayer dollars.

The Forum also featured a Stakeholder Roundtable, which included subject matter experts from a variety of fields, including the fire and emergency services.  Members of the roundtable emphasized the need for federal incentives to encourage state and local governments to adopt model building codes.  Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute, participated in the roundtable discussion.  

“Studies, research and real-life events make a compelling case for greater adoption and enforcement of nationally recognized building codes,” said Mr. Webb.  “Providing incentives to encourage more states to adopt these codes, as part of a national mitigation strategy, will reduce the cost of natural disasters for government at the local, state and federal levels and greatly reduce the risk of death and injuries to citizens caught in pathway of these disasters and the first responders who put their lives on the line to save others.”  

CFSI has been a member of the BuildStrong Coalition since 2011 and continues to advocate for the adoption of strong building codes at the federal, state and local levels.    

Senators Collins, Cardin Introduce Volunteer Incentive Bills

(June 9, 2017) – On May 25th, Senator Susan Collins (ME) and Senator Benjamin Cardin (MD) introduced two pieces of legislation intended to assist volunteer fire departments in the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters.  

S.1238, the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act, will exempt from federal income tax any property tax benefit and up to $600 per year of any other type of benefit that a state or local unit of government provides to volunteer emergency responders as a recruitment or retention incentive.  Congressman David Reichert (WA-8) and Congressman John Larson (CT-1) introduced companion legislation, H.R. 1550, on March 15th.  The Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved similar legislation during the 114th Congress, but it failed to advance through both chambers before the end of the legislative session.

S.1239, the Length of Service Award Program Cap Adjustment Priority Act, is the second piece of legislation introduced by the two Senators.  This measure will raise the annual cap on contributions to Length-of-Service Awards Programs to $6,000 and allows for adjustments for inflation.  The legislation will also create a process to adjust the cap based on inflation.

Without volunteer fire service personnel, many communities could not provide emergency services protection, while others would need to raise taxes to pay salaries and benefits for full or part-time staff. To bolster recruitment and retention, many volunteer fire departments now provide a number of incentives, including non-monetary gifts, reductions in property taxes or other fees, per-call payments, stipends, and retirement benefits. Volunteer benefits are typically small, but demonstrate community support.  The Volunteer Responder Incentive Act and the Length of Service Award Program Cap Adjustment Priority (LOSAP CAP) Act will assist local fire departments in creating incentives for the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters.  

White House Releases Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Proposal

(May 25, 2017) – On Tuesday, the White House released President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal. The $4.1 trillion spending plan includes $44.1 billion in funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

The spending plan requests $688,688,000 for the Assistance to Firefighters and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant programs, split evenly between the two programs. This is a slight reduction from the $690 million Congress appropriated for the programs in the current fiscal year.  The budget proposal also requests $43,410,000 for the United States Fire Administration (USFA), with $1,497,000 of that request targeted for infrastructure improvements at USFA’s Emmitsburg, MD campus.  Congress appropriated $44 million for USFA in Fiscal Year 2017.

While these programs only saw slight reductions in the Administration’s budget, several other programs of importance to the nation’s fire and emergency services were recommended for much more severe cuts.  The spending plan only requests $27.513 million for the Urban Search and Rescue System, down from the $38.280 appropriated for Fiscal Year 2017.  

The State Homeland Security Grant Program and the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) would both see a 25% cut if the President’s plan is enacted.  The Administration is also recommending a 25% non-federal match be implemented for the two grant programs.  The Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) grant program, which provides matching funds to volunteer fire departments to purchase equipment and training for use in wildland fire suppression, would be reduced from $15 million to $11.6 million under the plan.  

“As the saying goes, the President proposes and the Congress disposes,” said Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute.  “Now that the White House has released its FY2018 budget proposal, we’ll turn our attention to Capitol Hill where we will advocate for sufficient funding levels for these programs.  With call volumes rising across the nation and heightened concerns about potential threats to our safety and security, this is not the time to cut programs that benefit our nation’s fire service.”  

The release of the White House budget proposal is only the first step in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget process.  Committees in both the House and the Senate have begun holding hearings to review the budget proposal, and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will now begin drafting funding bills for the individual departments of the federal government. CFSI will continue to provide updates throughout the Fiscal Year 2018 process.