Press Release

With Tighter Budgets for Public Safety, Gillibrand Fights to Equip New York State’s First Responders with Tools, Resources, Technology to Keep Communities Safe

Jun 12, 2012

Washington, D.C. – With tighter budgets for police and firefighters at the local, state and federal level, and with first responders increasingly relying on outdated equipment to do their jobs or insufficient staff to respond to emergencies, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced a comprehensive strategy to help secure the tools and resources New York State’s first responders need to keep our communities safe. Senator Gillibrand’s efforts include working to fund the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s budget that supports local first responder staff and equipment, and hosting workshops across New York State to help first responder organizations navigate the federal grant application process to secure the funding they need.

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is now accepting applications for Fiscal Year 2012 funding.

“Our first responders put their lives on the line day in and day out to keep us safe,” Senator Gillibrand said. “We need to make sure that when they’re going into harm’s way, they have the right tools for the job to respond to emergencies, keep themselves safe, and protect our families.”

According to the National League of Cities, local governments across the country are facing some of the sharpest spending cuts and revenue loss since tracking this data first began. Nearly 20 percent of cities surveyed reported that cuts were made to public safety services and personnel, including firefighters and first responders, as a strategy to address budget shortfalls.

The nation’s fire service has long faced significant staffing, equipment and training shortages. According to a 2011 Needs Assessment conducted by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), personnel, equipment and training shortages limit the services provided by fire departments of all sizes and interfere with departments’ ability to respond to emergencies. Although needs have declined in some areas since the last needs assessment was conducted, NFPA found that over half of all fire departments cannot equip all firefighters on a shift with a self-contained breathing apparatus, which is a critical tool to a firefighter’s safety and effectiveness. Nearly half of all fire department engines and pumpers were at least 15 years old, and thousands of departments across the country remained in need of sufficient equipment and advanced capabilities to respond to community emergencies.

Shrinking public safety budgets also risks the safety of first responders themselves. The NFPA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported that fire departments across the nation lack adequate staffing, contributing to millions of dollars in time-lost injuries, thousands of on-the-job injuries, and dozens of line-of-duty deaths  each year.

Over the last 10 years, fire departments and first responder organizations across New York State have been awarded nearly $260 million in funding through the AFG program for equipment.

  • In Western New York, fire stations received 585 fire grants for a total of approximately $49 million over the last decade.
  • In the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region, fire stations received 432 fire grants for a total of over $32 million over the last decade.
  • In Central New York, fire stations received 411 fire grants for a total of over $33 million over the last decade.
  • In the Southern Tier, fire stations received 312 fire grants for a total of approximately $24 million over the last decade.
  • In the Capital Region, fire stations received 465 fire grants for a total of approximately $33 million over the last decade.
  • In the North Country, fire stations received 342 fire grants for a total of approximately $26 million over the last decade.
  • In the Hudson Valley, fire stations received 395 fire grants for a total of approximately $35 million over the last decade.
  • On Long Island, fire stations received 172 fire grants for a total of approximately $20 million over the last decade.

Funding Department of Homeland Security Budget for First Responder Resources

Senator Gillibrand is pushing Senate appropriators to include at least the Fiscal Year 2011 total amount of $810 million for the firefighter assistance programs, which includes the AFG program and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters’ (SAFER) program. These programs provide critical assistance to local fire departments who are struggling to maintain adequate equipment and resources as well as staffing levels needed to meet pressing emergency response needs.  The Fiscal Year 2013 budget request for these firefighter assistance programs was cut by $5 million from the Fiscal Year 2012 level, which was already a 16.7 percent reduction from the Fiscal Year 2011 amount.

In 2010, the most recent year statistics have been compiled, more than 16,000 requests for funding were filed through the AFG program, totaling more than $2.5 billon, including 975 applications from New York State totaling over $136.3 million.

Of the amount of total federal funds requested, only $338.91 million was awarded, including $13.36 million to New York, just roughly 10 percent of the state’s initial request for funds. 

Grant Workshops Across New York State

To ensure fire departments and other first responder agencies are adequately prepared to submit applications for funding in the upcoming AFG Program grant application period that opens this week, Senator Gillibrand’s office has hosted a series of grant workshops, many in coordination with FEMA, across the state. Workshops have already been held in Cheektowaga, Rochester, Yaphank, Goshen and North Salem. Additional workshops will also be held in Syracuse and the Capital region.

These grant workshops provide potential applicants a tutorial on critical information, including a review of common application mistakes, best practices for writing a strong proposal, insight on key points to reinforce, how to effectively develop a narrative that is in line with AFG’s funding priorities for the grant cycle, award evaluation and application scoring as well as provide a discussion of additional related funding opportunities through FEMA. These workshops also offer an opportunity for potential applicants to learn who their local FEMA point of contacts are who can provide technical assistance when needed as well as answer questions or address problems as applications are developed. 

Administered by FEMA, the program provides federal grants directly to local fire departments and unaffiliated Emergency Medical Services (EMS) organizations to help address a variety of equipment, training, and other firefighter-related and EMS needs. The primary goal of the AFG program is to meet the firefighting and emergency response needs of fire departments and nonaffiliated emergency medical service organizations.

Since 2001, AFG has helped firefighters and other first responders to obtain critically needed equipment, protective gear, emergency vehicles, training, and other resources to protect the public and emergency personnel from fire and related hazards. 

The application period for the Fiscal Year 2012 AFG program opened on June 11, 2012 at 8:00 a.m., and closes on July 6, 2012 at 5:00 p.m. As local first responder organizations from New York file their applications for these competitive grants, Senator Gillibrand frequently writes to FEMA to advocate for their approval.