Victor Stagnaro, CEO, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation
Good afternoon. I am Victor Stagnaro, the CEO of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and it is my pleasure to join you here today to discuss the importance of reauthorizing the United States Fire Administration and the AFG and SAFER grant programs.
President Hoagland described some of the health challenges impacting our nation’s fire service such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. In addition to these challenges, mental health and wellness is a serious challenge facing the fire and emergency services. Many firefighters experience mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress, due to exposures they suffered while delivering emergency services to the communities they serve. In fact, recent studies have shown firefighters and other rescue personnel develop PTSD at a similar rate to military service members returning from combat.
Unfortunately, many local fire departments are under-resourced and lack the peer support and counseling services necessary to address these problems. There is a lack of culturally competent mental health and wellness specialists to assist firefighters, and local Employee Assistance Programs are ill-equipped to assist first responders. Local fire departments, and the national fire service organizations represented here, rely on these federal grants and our partners at the US Fire Administration, to conduct programs addressing these unique challenges.
This past May, 144 firefighters who died in the line of duty were honored at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, MD – 79 firefighters who died in 2022 and 65 who died in previous years. As of September 30th, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation is aware of 100 reported firefighter fatalities this year. Our nation’s firefighters put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities. The AFG and SAFER grant programs are vital to ensuring our nation’s fire departments have the staffing, equipment, and resources they need to protect our communities and keep our firefighters safe.
It is imperative that Congress reauthorize these grant programs, and the United States Fire Administration, without delay. Thank you.