USA — Fire departments across the Mahoning Valley may have difficulty securing grant money in 2012 because the U.S. House of Representatives passed a spending plan that would cut federal fire grants by 17 percent nationwide.
The 2012 Homeland Security Appropriations bill now heads to the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH, said during a conference call Wednesday those reductions would affect the federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response programs. He plans to work at reversing the proposed cuts.
Nationwide, AFG and SAFER grants would be cut by $70 million, from $405 million to $335 million, he said.
Firefighters put their lives on the line each day to keep our communities safe. We should not return the favor by scaling back resources that keep them safe and our fire departments adequately staffed, Brown said. With so many communities already facing budget shortfalls, critical federal efforts like AFG and SAFER are pivotal in keeping our Ohio cities, towns, and villages safe.
Brown, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is asking that the programs be funded in 2012 at $450 million each.
Warren Fire Chief Ken Nussle said this year his department was awarded nearly $5 million through the SAFER grant program to recall 10 laid-off firefighters and hire 15 more. He said that money allowed the department to be fully staffed at 75.
Nussle said the money will last only through November 2012, and the department will have to apply for another SAFER grant.
We will be applying again next year for the same type of grant basically because … If we dont get another grant, the staffing will be cut. Theres no other way around it, he said. Our department went from 75 to 51 before because thats what we can afford.
Mark Sanders, president of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters, said for some departments these grants are the only way to obtain updated equipment and full staffing.
Local economies struggling to provide critical services depend on these funds, Sanders said.
Ensuring that our communitys fire departments are fully staffed and adequately prepared is vital to Ohios public safety and shouldnt be threatened due to partisan politics.
Andy Frost III, Austintown assistant fire chief, said cuts will make it more difficult for large townships like Austintown to get funding.
They get it to the cities because of the urban status and to rural areas with no additional funds, he said. Its kind of rough for townships like ours to get funding.
Frost said Austintown has used AFG grants to purchase new firetrucks and other equipment that has mandatory expiration dates.
Mandates tell us some gear should only be used for 10 years, he said. Right now these grants assist us in being able to do that replacing.