In a previous post
, I noted that IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger hinted at increased funding to come for the fire service.
Unfortunately, last week the administration actually proposed reducing the AFG program by 70 percent. Although this was "offset" by significant increases in the SAFER grant, it was hardly sounded like the increase in funding Schaitberger promised--overall, as National Volunteer Fire Council
Chairman Philip Stittleburg notes, it funds SAFER and AFG at less than 30 percent of their authorized level.
Because both Obama and Biden have been very vocal in their support of the fire service, I found myself wondering whether the administration had just made a huge miscalculation, failing to understand the complexities of the SAFER grant and why it's not an attractive option for many departments, even those in desperate need of additional personnel. And even if they understood that SAFER grants are not for every community, it seemed they'd overlooked the fact that more personnel means increased need for equipment, apparatus, testing, training, etc. I began to hope that the rounds of negotiations and discussions that invariably follow budget proposals would correct this problem, as has occurred in previous administrations.
So I was surprised to read today from the NVFC that DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano is claiming that it was input from firefighters
that led to the President's seemingly misguided budget request.
The NVFC reported: "In budget hearings before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee on May 12 and 13, Napolitano said that feedback she has received from fire departments and local governments indicates that staffing is a more pressing concern than equipment and training".
Now, I can understand how in a survey of top fire service concerns, staffing would be toward the top. But as the NVFC's post makes clear, a mere look at the numbers would have shown how important AFG is in comparison: "More than 21,000 fire departments applied for approximately $3.2 billion in AFG funding last year, compared with just over 1,300 departments that applied for less than $600 million through SAFER." I didn't check those numbers, but assuming they're accurate, that's a huge difference that shouldn't have been easily overlooked, even if fire departments were stressing their need for additional staffing.
At this point, beyond simply hoping this mess gets cleared up in the next few rounds, I'm wondering if this wasn't a big misunderstanding but simply a result of the administration's current focus on jobs, jobs, jobs. Which I'm all for, of course, but such a black-and-white approach will certainly leave some important programs underfunded.
On the surface, I'm not sure what the better solution would have been; perhaps shifting the funding more equally between the two programs?
So you tell me: Does the administration know something I don't (well, obviously they DO, but you know what I mean!)--or has a focus on staffing over other priorities actually hurt the fire service in this budget?
Shannon Pieper is managing editor of