LaHood urges FEMA to protect firefighters’ jobs

U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL) urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to take action that would avoid potential layoffs of America’s experienced firefighters.

Specifically, Rep. LaHood and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) called on FEMA to temporarily expand the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant Program to include firefighters already on payroll. Currently, the SAFER program has a requirement that funding be used only to hire new firefighters, according to a May 26 letter the lawmakers sent to FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor.

“Public health concerns have forced cities across the country to shut down and, in turn, take drastic budgetary measures,” wrote Rep. LaHood and his colleague. “This threatens the immediate viability of fire stations. Fire stations are struggling to retain the experienced firefighters already on staff — the same men and women that go out day after day as first responders to some of our most vulnerable.”

Currently, fiscal year (FY) 2019 SAFER grantees may only hire new firefighters at the equivalent cost of a first-year firefighter, which normally would assist a station getting up to required staffing levels with fresh talent, according to their letter.

“However, during this public health crisis, we feel that retaining experienced firemen and women is most important,” particularly as the nation’s fire departments grapple with the spread of COVID-19 in their communities, Rep. LaHood and his colleague wrote.

The members also noted that Congress has given FEMA the authority to waive certain FY19 SAFER requirements, as has memoranda provided by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

“As you consider additional waivers, we encourage you to waive the FY19 SAFER grant spending requirement on new firefighter hires only,” according to their letter.