The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program, also known as fire grants or the FIRE Act grant program, was established by Title XVII of the FY2001 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 106-398). Currently administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 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. A related program is the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters (SAFER) program, which provides grants for hiring, recruiting, and retaining firefighters.
The fire grant program is now in its 13th year. The Fire Act statute was reauthorized in 2012 (Title XVIII of P.L. 112-239) and provides new guidelines on how fire grant money should be distributed. There is no set geographical formula for the distribution of fire grants—fire departments throughout the nation apply, and award decisions are made by a peer panel based on the merits of the application and the needs of the community. However, the law does require that fire grants be distributed to a diverse mix of fire departments, with respect to type of department (paid, volunteer, or combination), geographic location, and type of community served (e.g., urban, suburban, or rural).
For FY2012, P.L. 112-74, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, provided $675 million for firefighter assistance, including $337.5 million for AFG and $337.5 million for SAFER. The Administration’s FY2013 budget proposed $670 million for firefighter assistance, including $335 million for AFG and $335 million for SAFER. The Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2013 (P.L. 112-175), funds firefighter assistance programs through the first six months of FY2013 at an increase of 0.612% of the FY2012 level. Therefore, under the FY2013 continuing resolution, AFG is funded at $339.5 million and SAFER is funded at $339.5 million through March 2013.
The 113th Congress will likely consider FY2013 and FY2014 budget appropriations for AFG and SAFER. As is the case with many federal programs, concerns over the federal budget deficit could impact budget levels for AFG and SAFER. At the same time, firefighter assistance budgets will likely receive heightened scrutiny from the fire community, given the local budgetary cutbacks that many fire departments are facing.