Senator Carper Fights for U.S. Firefighters

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del) spoke on the Senate floor to advocate for the passage of the Fire Grants and Safety Act, which will reauthorize funding for three critical programs to support local fire departments and improve emergency response.  The bill is co-lead by Senator Carper and his counterparts in the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, Senators Gary Peters (D-Mich), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Watch Senator Carper’s full floor speech here.

I rise today to highlight the importance of supporting the brave men and women who protect us every day – our nation’s firefighters.

As I laid out on the floor last month, the fires we face are getting worse. Every day there are more fires ravaging our communities, and more folks relying on our firefighters for protection.

Just last week, almost 4,000 acres in New Jersey were scorched by the Jimmy’s Waterhole fire, forcing evacuations from 170 buildings and homes. 

In Pennsylvania, over 2,500 acres were burned and over 150 homes threatened, forcing the Pennsylvania turnpike to temporarily close.

We have to support our firefighters so that when they bravely run towards danger to help others, they are well prepared and properly trained.

That’s why I am co-leading the Fire Grants and Safety Act with my colleagues on the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. Firefighters put their lives on the line for us, and it is our duty to provide the necessary resources to support them.

I am proud to fight alongside Senators Gary Peters, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski, for this crucial legislation to ensure that our firefighters are armed with the tools they need to get the job done.

Today, I want to talk more about how the Fire Grants and Safety Act will actually have an impact on communities across the country.

At a high level, this bill reauthorizes three critical federal programs that support local fire departments.

Let me break it down. 

First, it will reauthorize the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, also known as the SAFER Grant program.

The SAFER Grant program provides funding for career, volunteer, and combination local fire departments to increase the number of men and women on duty.

The job of a fire fighter is incredibly demanding, and baseline industry standards include protocols like 24-hour staffing to make sure our communities have adequate protection at all hours of the day.

The SAFER Grant program also provides funding to recruit staff so that we can ensure staffing needs can be met.

For example, SAFER Grants could help ensure that more personnel are properly trained and available on the ground to assist in major fires in the areas that need it most.

In states like Delaware where the majority of firefighters are volunteers, it is particularly important that staffing needs are met and resources are provided so that all first responders are ready to meet the day ahead.

The Fire Grants and Safety Act also reauthorizes the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program.

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant program helps local fire departments and EMS organizations fulfill equipment and training needs, like firetrucks and protective gear, all of which leads to a more effective emergency response.

But firefighters do so much more than put out fires. Annually, there are over 36 million emergency calls that fire services respond to, a 20% increase in the last 12 years.

Just a few weeks ago in my own state, a strong, dangerous tornado struck southern Delaware, in the area of Sussex County, our southernmost County, near a community called Greenwood and another community called Bridgeville.

It was our firefighters who showed up to lead the people to safety. Tragically in this case, we lost a grandfather when the tornado struck Bridgeville, as I recall, I think he was in his 70s, leaving behind his family.

Ensuring that funding is provided for EMS alongside fire services is critical to the emergency response.

Finally, the Fire Grants and Safety Act will reauthorize the United States Fire Administration to provide leadership, coordination, and training for first responders and health care leaders.

Responding to emergencies is a huge undertaking. In addition to our firefighters, health care leaders help to guide the disaster response by making sure that people are taken care of both during and after the emergency response.

The United States Fire Administration also plays a critical role in that coordinated effort, ensuring that our first responders are ready to handle hazards from saving lives to preventing loss of homes and personal belongings.

Beyond the initial response, the Administration collects fire data, conducts important research in prevention methods, and hosts public safety education and fire service training. This proactive approach assists local fire departments in handling future emergencies, and creates a more comprehensive approach to fire safety. 

The lifesaving work made possible by these three federal programs must continue, and we have the opportunity here in the Senate to make that happen.

Last month, we came together – Democrats and Republicans – and voted to consider the Fire Grants and Safety Act. That vote passed 96-0. That doesn’t happen very often here – and is a testament to the power of bipartisanship. It is also a testament to the critical role that firefighters play in communities across America.

Together, we will improve our emergency response, and we will make sure that our firefighters have, if not everything they need, more of what they need.

I am pleased that our President has announced his support for this legislation and I strongly encourage our friends in the House of Representatives to do their part once we’ve taken care of business here and send the Fire Grants and Safety Act to the President’s desk.

Mr. President, I want to go back a little bit in time. I remember a time when my sister and I were young, and playing with other kids in our neighborhood, maybe our cousins who were visiting us, and we had a couple of little fire trucks. And we would take turns being a firefighter. Somedays we put out fires and other days we’d respond to imaginary weather events that endangered our community where we lived.

Decades later, my sister would have her kids, a son and daughter, and my wife and I had a couple of boys. And one of their favorite toys were fire trucks. And on more than a few occasions they and their friends would come over to our house to play and would break out the fire trucks. They didn’t have anything else to do but fight fires.

And for them, it was just fun. They loved doing it, with their neighbors and friends. They loved doing it with their cousins who might be visiting with us.

That was fun for them. In the real world, while being a firefighter can be enormously satisfying, I don’t know that I’d say it’s fun. It’s dangerous. And there’s a chance that someone will get hurt trying to help out other people. And the risks can be great.

I just want to make sure that that those young kids who grew up to be firefighters like the ones that we honored this past month from the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Company in southern Delaware, that they know that we value them, we value their service, and we value their willingness to risk their own lives on behalf of other people, including people they may not even know.

In the legislation that’s before us, we have the opportunity to make that clear to firefighters around the country: states large and small, East and West, blue and red. We value them and the service that they provide to so many of us.