Congress approves $750 million for FIRE grants

Congress approves $750 million for FIRE grants

The Assistance to Firefighters Program, also known as the FIRE Act grant program, will be increased from $360 million to $750 million as part of FY 2003 funding secured by House appropriators for fire service providers nationwide.

Of the $360 million appropriated for the grant program in 2002, the Federal Emergency Management Agency received 19,500 requests for funding totaling $2.2 billion. Funds were awarded in a total of four categories including fire operations and fire safety, fire prevention, EMS, and firefighting vehicles.

The fire service must now quickly shift its sights to the FY 2004 budget process, which is already under way. President George W. Bush released the administration’s FY 2004 budget on Feb. 3, which overall included more than $3.5 billion to ensure that first responders are properly trained and equipped.

Of these funds, $500 million is specifically earmarked for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program. Although the $500 million is short of the $900 million that is authorized, this is a victory for the fire service due to the fact that the program has never been in the president’s budget.

The administration has proposed to move the FIRE Grant program out of FEMA/USFA and into the Office of Domestic Preparedness, formerly part of the Department of Justice and now in the Border and Transportation Security directorate of the Department of Homeland Security.

The application period for the 2003 Assistance to Firefighters Grant program was tentatively scheduled to begin March 3 and run through April 4, but technical difficulties delayed the opening of the application period. At presstime, a new opening date was not yet determined.

Fire departments may apply for assistance in only one of four program areas this year.

* Fire operations and firefighter safety

Eligible activities are limited to training, wellness and fitness, firefighting equipment, personal protective equipment, and modifications to fire stations and facilities.

* Fire prevention

Eligible activities include but are not limited to public education and awareness activities, fire codes enforcement activities, fire inspector certifications, purchase and installation of smoke alarms and fire suppression systems, wildland mitigation, and arson prevention and detection activities.

* EMS

Eligible activities under this function for fire-based EMS units are limited to equipment, training and wellness and fitness initiatives. Vehicles such as ambulances are not eligible in this area.

* Firefighting vehicles acquisition

Eligible apparatus include, but are not limited to, pumpers, brush trucks, tankers, rescue, ambulances, quints, aerials, foam units and fireboats. Departments may apply for only one vehicle per year.

The 2003 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program application is automated and will be available online at www.usfa.fema.gov once the application period opens.

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