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.    

Chief Keith Bryant to be Appointed U.S. Fire Administrator

(May 25, 2017) – On May 18th, President Donald Trump announced his intention to appoint Chief Keith Bryant as the next Administrator of the United States Fire Administration.  Chief Bryant is currently the chief of the Oklahoma City Fire Department.

He is a former president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), past president of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, and past president of the Oklahoma Fire Chiefs Association (OFCA). He is also a member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and currently serves on the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board for the Municipal Fire Protection Program (OSU-OKC).  In 2006, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry appointed him to the Oklahoma State Fire Marshal Commission.

“On behalf of the Congressional Fire Services Institute’s Board of Directors, I would like to congratulate Chief Bryant on his appointment to this important position.  He’s a highly respected leader who will bring to the position a level of experience and knowledge needed to guide USFA in its mission,” said Dr. William Jenaway, President of the CFSI Board of Directors.  

House Hearing Spotlights Fire Service Occupational Cancer

(May 18, 2017) – On Wednesday, May 17th, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health held a hearing titled “Examining Initiatives to Advance Public Health.”  The hearing addressed several current pieces of legislation before the committee, including H.R. 931, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act.  

H.R. 931,  introduced by Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27), 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.  Kevin O’Connor, Assistant to the General President for Governmental Affairs and Public Policy at the International Association of Fire Fighters, testified in favor of the bill.

“Our nation is served by approximately one million professional and volunteer fire fighters who respond to nearly 35 million calls for assistance each year.  Statistics maintained by the National Fire Protection Association indicate that there are approximately two million fires or hazardous materials incidents annually, routinely placing fire fighters in environments where they will be exposed to carcinogens and toxic chemicals,” Mr. O’Connor stated in his testimony.  He went on further to say that the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act “will lead to a preeminent centralized data collection point that will aid in studies that we expect to result in better prevention and treatment measures for fire fighters.”

Senator Robert Menendez (NJ) introduced companion legislation, S. 382, in the Senate on February 15, 2017.   

Congress Passes Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act

(May 18, 2017) – This week, Congress passed legislation designed to improve the timeliness and transparency in the Justice Department’s processing of the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program survivor, disability, and educational assistance claims.  S. 419, the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvements Act, was introduced by Senator Charles Grassley (IA) on February 16, 2017.  The bill will address on-going problems with the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program.

The legislation allows the PSOB office to issue rules, regulations and procedures that are based on standards developed by other federal agencies dealing with death or disability claims of public safety officers.  This is in direct response to the Department of Justice’s delay in adopting the World Trade Center Health Program and Victims’ Compensation Fund findings associated with 9/11-related claims.  Additionally, the legislation restores the “substantial weight” standard that requires the PSOB office to give substantial weight to the findings of federal, state, and local agencies as to the cause of the public safety officer’s death or disability prior to the rewrite of regulations in 2005.  The bill also requires the PSOB office to post a public weekly status report on claims and to make a detailed biannual report to Congress.

S. 419 was approved unanimously by the Senate on Tuesday, May 16th.  The House unanimously approved the bill the following day.  The legislation will now go to the White House for the President’s signature.

House Approves the Honoring Hometown Heroes Act

(May 18, 2017) – On the afternoon of Thursday, May 18th, the House approved H.R. 1892, the Honoring Hometown Heroes Act.  The legislation amends the U.S. Flag Code, affirming the ability of state governors, as well as the mayor of the District of Columbia, to order the lowering of the United States flag to half-staff in the event of the death of a first responder in the line- of- duty.  H.R. 1892, sponsored by Congressman John Larson (CT-1), was approved by the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month.  

Senator Jon Tester (MT), a co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, introduced companion legislation, S. 1108, on May 11th.  

Congressional Staff Participate in Ride-Along with DC Fire & EMS

(May 18, 2017) – On Friday, May 12th, approximately 20 staff members from the House and Senate participated in a ride-along with the District of Columbia Fire and EMS Department.  This was a unique opportunity for Congressional staff to witness firsthand the daily operations of firehouses in our nation’s capital as they accompanied firefighters to actual emergencies and observed their actions.

“We extend our appreciation to Chief Gregory Dean and the men and women of the DC Fire and EMS Department for sponsoring this important educational opportunity for Congressional staff,” said Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute.  “There are few better ways for Congressional staff to learn about the challenges our firefighters face than by spending a night at the firehouse and seeing firsthand what our frontline responders face every day.”  

CFSI’s mission is to educate Congress about the needs and challenges of our nation’s fire and emergency services.  Partnering with local fire departments, like the DC Fire and EMS Department, is a critical component in delivering that message.  

Fire Service-Based EMS Advocates Recognize National EMS Week

(May 17, 2017) – Sunday May 21, 2017 marks the beginning of National EMS Week and presents an opportunity to honor the men and women who deliver pre-hospital 9-1-1 emergency medical care throughout the United States.  This vital public safety service is provided primarily by cross-trained, multi-role emergency responders who are based in our nation’s fire departments.
The fire service has a rich history of protecting the health and safety of our communities through an emergency response model that includes the delivery of pre-hospital 9-1-1 emergency medical care.  Fire Service-Based EMS providers are trained, equipped and positioned to provide their communities with timely emergency medical care, and more recently, Integrated Community Health Care (ICHC) services as well. Firefighter/EMTs and paramedics respond quickly, professionally, skillfully, and compassionately in communities across the United States every day…24/7.
The Fire Service-Based EMS Advocates Coalition recognizes the life-saving contributions, achievements, dedication and commitment of those who serve in Fire Service-Based EMS systems.  National EMS Week is a time to pause and say “thank you” to the entire EMS Community, especially firefighter/EMTs and paramedics …our nation’s ‘all hazards’ response personnel.
Established in 2006, the Fire Service-Based EMS Advocates Coalition, based in Washington, DC, provides members of Congress and other government officials with information they need to effectively support Fire Service-Based EMS systems throughout the nation. For more information about the Fire Service-Based EMS Advocates and how to join the coalition, visit www.fireserviceems.com.