Long Island, NY - March 31, 2014 - U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer sounded the alarm regarding the pending end to a vital volunteer firefighter recruitment tool on Long Island, due to a lack of federal funds. He urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to address this critical problem by agreeing to renew the federal grant that Nassau County and Suffolk County use to provide volunteer firefighters with tuition assistance funds. Currently the program is set to run out of funds in fall of 2014. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program is FEMA’s recruitment and retention grant program aimed at bolstering local firefighting forces. The SAFER grant will help Long Island continue its tuition assistance program, which subsidizes tuition costs while volunteer firefighters service local communities. With 71 independent fire districts, Nassau County is requesting $1.5 million in funding and with 109 independent fire districts, Suffolk County is requesting $2.8 million in funding. With the success of this tuition assistance program on Long Island, Schumer urged FEMA to support Nassau and Suffolk County’s SAFER applications.
“Communities across Long Island face a serious shortage of volunteer firefighters, which is why we must keep an immensely successful recruitment program – the tuition assistance program for firefighters - from running dry. This tuition assistance program is one of the most important tools in our belts to keep recruitment numbers up and our communities safe," said Schumer. "In addition to helping keep fire departments staffed at adequate levels, it allows us, in a small way, to thank the volunteer firefighters for the lifesaving work that they do. I am urging FEMA to approve this critical grant for Nassau and Suffolk so that limited staffing at departments across Long Island does not throw fuel on the fire."
Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano stated, “With fire departments struggling to recruit new volunteers, Senator Schumer and I partnered to provide a free community college tuition incentive to those joining the fire service. I commend Senator Schumer for securing the initial funds for this program and for his tireless efforts to secure an additional $1.5 million from FEMA for recruitment efforts over the next two years.”
The goal of the SAFER grant program is to enhance the ability of grantees to attain and maintain 24-hour staffing and to assure that their communities have adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards. The objective of the program is to award grants directly to volunteers in fire departments to help the departments increase the number of frontline firefighters.
In 2009, with Schumer’s support, FEMA awarded Nassau County and Suffolk County $4.3 million in federal funding through the SAFER grant, in which $2.1 million went to Nassau County. This federal grant helped Long Island set up this critical recruitment program, the funding for which is expected to run out by the fall 2014 semester. Schumer is pushing for a new SAFER Grant so that the current firefighters participating in the tuition assistance program are not cut off, and so that Nassau and Suffolk Counties can continue to recruit with this program and keep their departments fully equipped to protect their communities.
There are currently 8,970 current active volunteer firefighters within Nassau County and 1,433 active volunteer firefighters joined the fire departments the last three years. There are currently 9,329 active volunteer firefighters within Suffolk County and 1,689 active volunteer firefighters joined the fire departments over the last three years.
Schumer today called on FEMA to approve Nassau County and Suffolk County’s SAFER application. Schumer explained that the SAFER grant has given hundreds of young men and women the opportunity to go to college while serving their community. Schumer noted that the program has successfully kept young men and women on Long Island while they build a career locally. Young men and women who didn’t have the means to go to college or thought a college education was not for them are now graduating with degrees in fire science, emergency management, nursing, education, etc. Schumer also pointed to Superstorm Sandy and the tremendous role that many of these volunteer firefighters played in helping impacted communities during and after the storm.
A copy of the letters are below:
The Honorable Jeh Johnson
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Nebraska Avenue Center, NW
Washington, DC 20528
I am pleased to write in support of the application submitted by the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management for funding under the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (Application EMW-2013-FF-00583). Such funding will enable Nassau County to implement a fire service recruitment retention plan.
Nassau County has seventy-one independent fire districts that serve a population of almost 1.4 million residents. The membership is almost all volunteer, drawing recruitment from their respective communities. Volunteers are therefore critical and, thus, volunteer firefighter recruitment and retention are vital to maintaining the staffing levels required to meet the operational demands to protect Nassau County residents.
With funding, Nassau County OEM will coordinate with its 71 FDs to implement a regional county-wide Fire Service Recruitment Retention Plan. Goals include: hiring a program coordinator to focus on outreach and management of their Fire Service Recruitment Retention Plan; conducting more Volunteer Fire Service awareness campaigns in local schools; conducting targeted multi-channel public outreach campaigns; utilizing SAFER funding for college tuition at the local community college in return for volunteer fire service commitment; working with FDs to construct viable succession planning programs; providing initial and ongoing training at the local fire academy for volunteers; and conducting quarterly reviews, surveys and analysis to determine program efficiency and measure expected outcomes. The primary goals of this plan are the retention of younger members, increasing overall turnout, and succession planning. I applaud Nassau County for its foresight, and I sincerely hope its application for funding meets with your approval.
Thank you for your consideration. For additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me or my Grants Director, Marissa Emanuel, in my Washington office at 202-224-6542.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
I am pleased to write in support of the Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services (FRES) request for funding under the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (Application EMW-2013-FF-00239). Such funding will enable Suffolk County to implement a fire service recruitment retention plan.
Suffolk County is a suburban county in the New York Metropolitan Region. It occupies a portion of Long Island, to the east of Queens County of New York City and immediately to the east of Nassau County. Suffolk County occupies a total area of nearly 3,000 square miles, almost half of which is water, making it the second largest county by area in the State of New York. More than 100 fire departments and almost thirty EMS agencies serve the county’s 1.4 million residents, but Suffolk County’s firefighting force has shrunk in recent years. Lower recruitment prompted local government officials to create a recruitment and retention program to maintain and stabilize its force strength, but additional support is needed in order to sustain and expand this critical program.
There are over 9,000 firefighters in Suffolk County, and over 1,600 volunteer firefighters joined the Suffolk County fire departments over the last three years under the SAFER grant. Additionally, Suffolk County has enrolled over 400 volunteer firefighters in the tuition assistance program. This program has successfully kept young men and women in their local communities as they build careers on Long Island, and I applaud Suffolk County for its foresight. I sincerely hope the application for funding meets with your approval.
Thank you for your consideration. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my Grants Director, Marissa Emanuel, in my Washington, D.C. office at 202-224-6542.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator