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Congress Passes Legislation to Reauthorize USFA and the FIRE and SAFER grant programs

As part of the conference report to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year (FY) 2013 (H.R. 4310), Congress included provisions to reauthorize the U.S. Fire Administration and the FIRE and SAFER Grant programs. The NDAA was passed by the House on December 20 and the Senate on December 21.

This USFA-FIRE-SAFER legislation was added as an amendment to the NDAA during Senate consideration of the bill in late November. The amendment was sponsored by Senators Joseph Lieberman (ID-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), and Robert Casey, Jr. (D-Penn).

Here’s a summary of what the amendment means for the fire service.


The amendment authorizes $76.49 million for the USFA from fiscal year (FY) 2013 through FY 2017. This amendment also would allow the USFA to continue its project to upgrade the National Fire Incident Reporting System.


The amendment makes a number of changes to the FIRE grant program. For example, the maximum grant size of for a FIRE grant increases based on the size of the population of the jurisdiction. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Jurisdictions with populations of 100,000 people or fewer - $1 million
  • Jurisdictions with populations of between 100,000 and 500,000 people - $2 million
  • Jurisdictions with populations of between 500,000 and 1 million people - $3 million
  • Jurisdictions with populations of between 1 million and 2.5 million people - $6 million
  • Jurisdictions with populations of more than 2.5 million people - $9 million

In general, no jurisdiction can receive a FIRE grant that exceeds one percent of the available grant funds in the fiscal year. However, FEMA does have the ability to waive that limit if the agency determines that a, “recipient has an extraordinary need.”

The amendment also reduces the local match required for many fire departments. The match requirement for jurisdictions with more than 1 million people is 15% . For jurisdictions with populations between 1 million people and 20,000, there is a 10% match. For jurisdiction with populations of 20,000 or fewer, the match is 5%. Jurisdictions still must agree to maintain not less than 80% of the average amount of expenditures in the two fiscal years preceding the grant award. If jurisdictions can't meet these requirements, they may be able to apply for an economic-hardship waiver.

The amendment also will ensure a fairer distribution of FIRE grant funding. Of the appropriated funds, 25% would be set aside for each category: career; volunteer; and combination and paid-on-call fire departments. Another 10% of the appropriated funds would be available for open competition among these different categories. Another 2% of the appropriated funds can be awarded to “third-service” EMS organizations. In addition, the amendment allocates 3.5% of the appropriated funds for EMS response. Also, 3% of the appropriated funds can be allocated to state fire training academies. No grant to a state fire academy can exceed $1 million. 

The amendment authorizes $750 million for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program in FY 2013. The authorization would increase each year from FY 2014 to FY 2017 based on the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) insisted on adding an amendment that would end the authority for this program five years after that date of enactment of this legislation.

Fire Prevention and Safety

The legislation also includes changes to the Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) grants. The amount of funding for the FP&S grants increases from 5% of the appropriated funds to 10%. In addition, the maximum grant award is increased to $1.5 million per year. The match requirement for FP&S grants will be 5%, which is a decrease for fire departments, but an increase for nonprofit organizations. A FP&S grant awardee may meet this match, “through direct funding, funding of complementary activities, or the provision of staff, facilities, services, material or equipment.” The FP&S grants also create fire safety research centers, which can be composed of national fire service organizations, institutions of higher education or national fire-safety organizations. An award under the FP&S grant program may not exceed $1.5 million.      


The legislation also makes major changes to the SAFER grant program. It revises the SAFER local match requirement to be:

  • 1st Year: 25%
  • 2nd Year: 25%
  • 3rd Year: 65%

The amendment removes the requirement that SAFER-funded firefighters have to be retained for an extra year at the jurisdiction’s expense. In addition, the $100,000 cap on firefighter expenses is removed. In cases of economic hardship, FEMA may waive the local match requirements; the requirement that the jurisdiction sustain funding for its fire department; and the requirement prohibiting the jurisdiction from using the SAFER grant funds to supplant state and local funds. The amendment also allows national and tribal organizations to apply for volunteer recruitment and retentions grants. 

The amendment also authorizes $750 million for the SAFER grant program in FY 2013 with increases over the next four years based on changes in the Consumer Price Index. As with the AFG program, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) insisted on an amendment ending the authority for the SAFER grant program five years after that date of enactment of this legislation too.


The legislation also includes authority for the USFA to conduct a study on the level of fire service compliance with national voluntary consensus standards, such as those developed by the NFPA, for training, staffing, safe operations, personal protective equipment and fitness among the fire service. The U.S. fire administrator will conduct a survey of the fire service as part of this study. The amendment also creates a task force to consult with the USFA on the conduct of the study and develop a plan to enhance firefighter compliance with these voluntary consensus standards. The IAFC would be represented on this task force. The legislation also authorizes a fourth fire service needs assessment, which would be similar to the ones that NFPA has done previously.

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