Peters, Collins Introduce Bill to Give Fire Departments Flexibility in Hiring

Bill Allows Fire Departments to Use Federal Funding to Promote Part-Time Firefighters

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Susan Collins (R-ME) today introduced bipartisan legislation to help local fire departments across the country save money and hire and promote trained first responders. The Firefighters Retention Act of 2017 will give fire departments flexibility to use Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) Grants to transition part-time or paid-on-call personnel to full-time status. Under current law, fire departments can only use SAFER grants to hire and train new personnel and are prohibited from using these grants to promote part-time firefighters, who are already trained and equipped to respond to emergencies.

“Part-time firefighters serve on the frontlines of their communities and have the experience to effectively and efficiently respond when emergency strikes,” said Senator Peters, a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “This commonsense legislation would give fire departments greater ability to promote trained, experienced firefighters, which will save money and reaffirm the critical role these men and women play in keeping our neighborhoods safe.”

“Volunteer and part-time firefighters provide a vital service to municipalities across Maine and the country,” said Senator Collins, the Chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. “Unfortunately, when these experienced, highly-trained individuals wish to become full-time firefighters, fire departments are prohibited from using certain federal funds to promote them.  Our cost-effective legislation removes this unnecessary restriction so that these brave men and women can continue to serve their fellow citizens and fire departments have the resources necessary to keep their communities safe.”

In fiscal year 2015, a total of $340 million was awarded to fire departments across the country through the SAFER grant program. The SAFER grant program provides direct funding to fire departments and volunteer firefighter organizations to help them increase or maintain the number of trained firefighters available in their communities. The majority of organized fire departments recruit resident and community leaders who are familiar with their neighborhoods to be part-time or volunteer firefighters - comprising 70% of the total firefighting force in the United States. These firefighters receive critical training and certifications, including fire officer, pump operator or engineer, extrication, and hazardous materials training. In addition to providing flexibility to support part-time personnel, the Firefighters Retention Act of 2017 would also save money for fire departments and taxpayers alike by allowing fire departments to direct their resources toward firefighters who are already trained rather than devoting greater resources to recruiting and training new firefighters.

Senator Peters is a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that administers SAFER grants. Peters is a cosponsor of legislation to reauthorize FEMA firefighter grant programs through 2023, including SAFER, Assistance for Firefighter Grants (AFG) and Fire Prevention & Safety (FP&S) grants.  Last year, Michigan received nearly $33 million from these three grant programs.

The Firefighters Retention Act of 2017 has been endorsed by the International Association of Firefighters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Association of Counties, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, among other groups.

“While SAFER grants have benefitted countless fire departments by providing federal dollars to hire new fire fighters, funds were unavailable for departments wishing to convert part-time fire fighters to full-time employees.  Senators Peters’ legislation remedies this loophole, and will provide Michigan communities a new means to increase the number of fire fighters on the job and improve public safety,” said Mark Docherty, President of the Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union.

“For two years, Clinton Township was able to use SAFER Grant funding for departmental personnel consistency while preparing for a successful millage campaign. The Clinton Township Fire Department is positioned to provide excellent services to the community and is on track for a bright and healthy financial future thanks to the SAFER Grant funding. Senator Peters’ bill would improve the flexibility of the SAFER program and allow for continuity in departments where they will be utilizing the grant in the future,” said Michael Phy, Clinton Township Fire Chief.

“The part time-firefighters at the Woodhaven Fire Department are the backbone of our department, and SAFER grants help fire departments like ours meet the needs of the community we serve. However, with many cities being underfunded to support the growing needs of fire departments to remain in compliance to staffing needs, this legislation from Senator Peters will provide our department more flexibility to promote our part-time firefighters through SAFER grants and keep our community safe,” said Michael Clark, City of Woodhaven Fire Chief.

“I appreciate Senator Peters' efforts to increase full-time firefighter staffing and strengthen the fire service. The proposed legislation from Senator Peters would allow fire departments to provide reliable and effective staffing at all times to mitigate incidents by providing more flexible use of SAFER grants,” said Christopher Van Loo, Fire Chief, Saginaw Fire Department.

“The expansion of the SAFER grant to provide for hiring of part-time or paid on-call firefighters into fulltime positions will provide a positive and significant impact for the fire service, and the public we serve. Part-time and paid on-call fire fighters that transition to full-time firefighters come with training, certification and experience that are essential to fire and emergency service operations. Additionally, transitioning a part-time or paid on call firefighter to a full-time firefighter can significantly reduce costs that the SAFER grant does not cover, such as personal protective equipment,” said Delta Township Fire Chief John Clark.

“This bill will allow communities like ours to utilize their trained paid on-call or part-time firefighters to fill positions created through the SAFER grant program and reduce hiring costs by over $25,000 per hired individual.  In addition, the program will aid in the morale of the organization allowing existing firefighters to now serve in a full-time roll.  This simple change proposed by Senator Peters will help many communities to continue improving their fire services and reducing the impact of fire on their communities,” said Michael O’Brian, Fire Chief, Brighton Area Fire Authority.

“Current SAFER hiring guidelines discourage participating in the part-time and paid-on-call ranks because these department members are ineligible for full-time hiring under SAFER. Allowing part-time and paid-on-call staff to be eligible for hiring under SAFER provides a recruitment incentive for those in these ranks. We thank Senator Peters for proposing this legislation, which will give our department the ability to promote these part-time and paid-on-call staff to full-time and be ready to serve our community starting day one,” said Christopher J. Dean, Fire Chief, City of Muskegon Heights.

“Our department is comprised of twelve full-time staff and 25 paid-on-call staff, and our paid-on-call staff have received all the necessary training and are familiar with our operations and community, making them the ideal candidates to fill full time positions. Unfortunately, we cannot hire our paid-on-call staff to fill SAFER grant positions, and we are forced to use additional expenses and time to train a new person to our operational methods and familiarity with the community we serve.  We thank Senator Peters for his support for the fire service in Michigan and across the country, and his introduction of the Firefighters Retention Act of 2017,” said David Glotzbach, Fire Chief, Muskegon Charter Township.

“The Firefighters Retention Act proposed by Senator Peters is a common sense approach to utilizing tax payer funds to support and retain firefighters in our communities. It can take up to two years to train a new firefighter and get them to the competency level needed to respond appropriately. It would give our community the flexibility to put full time firefighters in place quicker. This bill allows the SAFER grant funding to promote fully trained part time personnel to full time positions while simultaneously recruiting new firefighters,” said Theodore Weber, Chief/CEO, Grand Traverse Rural Fire Department.

“Many Michigan fire departments rely on part-time and paid-on-call firefighters to keep their communities safe, and this bill gives fire departments the ability to make these firefighters full-time. This is a commonsense step to improve public safety and help reduce costs for fire departments like ours, and I applaud Senator Peters for his efforts,” said Bill Forbush, Alpena City Fire Department Chief.

“The IAFF fully supports the Firefighters Retention Act introduced by Senator Peters and Collins.  This common sense legislation increases fire fighter safety while simultaneously improving community fire protection capabilities in a rapid and efficient manner,” stated Harold A. Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters. 

“The Firefighters Retention Act is a common-sense fix to help local fire departments use SAFER funds to hire current part-time firefighters as full-time status,” said Fire Chief John Sinclair, International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) President and Chairman of the Board. “The IAFC fully supports Senator Peters' and Collins' proposed legislation.”

“The National Association of Counties (NACo) supports the Firefighters Retention Act of 2017 and the flexibility it provides to local fire departments and their ability to address internal staffing needs,” said NACo’s Executive Director Matt Chase. “This legislation represents an improvement to the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program, which NACo has long supported, and we applaud Senators Peters and Collins for its introduction.”

“The U.S. Conference of Mayors is grateful to Senators Gary Peters and Susan Collins for his leadership in addressing the need for greater flexibility in the SAFER grant program, which has the strong support of the nation’s mayors.  His Firefighters Retention Act will help our fire departments strengthen their staffing capabilities and better respond to unique local needs, and we are pleased to endorse it,” commented Conference of Mayors CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran.