Schumer calls for reauthorization of two federal grant programs that bring millions to upstate fire departments

Mar. 2—WASHINGTON — Two federal grant programs that provide millions of dollars to support local fire departments are on the verge of expiration, and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said he's pushing hard to make sure they get renewed.

In a virtual press conference Thursday, Sen. Schumer said he's worried about the impending expiration of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response programs, which are due to shut down on Sept. 30. These grant programs provide money for equipment and staff for professional and volunteer fire departments annually, and have been in place since 1999.

"I was actually part of the original group of senators that started this program back in 1999," Sen. Schumer said. "The ASG program is there in order to help fire departments of all sizes with the high costs of equipment, from bigger upstate cities like Albany and Rochester to the rural fire departments throughout upstate New York."

He said $700 million has been given to local fire departments through these grants since 1999, with $23 million provided just last year.

"Imagine it, millions that firefighters thought they could rely on is now suddenly is just a pile of ash," he said.

Fire departments across the state have relied on this funding for important equipment and staffing coverage. In 2018, the Watertown City Fire Department took in $561,202 to hire four firefighters, and last month the West Potsdam Volunteer Fire Department received $106,666 to buy 14 oxygen devices.

The Jamestown Fire Department in Chautauqua County received more than $1.8 million for eight new firefighters last month, and another $284,291 to buy new radios and a rope bailout system.

Sen. Schumer said the two grants were last authorized in 2017, and he is calling for the Senate to support a new round of legislation to authorize the programs through 2030 in the "Fire Grants and Safety Act of 2023."

"We tried to include this bill in our end-of-year spending package, but at the last second some of the Republicans in the Senate withdrew their support," he said. "Although this bill has always had bipartisan support, now we're down to the wire to get this done."

Sen. Schumer said he believes that firefighters shouldn't have to fight to prove they deserve the funding to do their jobs right, and all fire departments need access to good equipment and safe staffing levels.

"I'm officially turning up the heat, putting those who seek to block this program on notice," he said. "I'll hold their feet to the fire, it's time to put on our boots and throw some cold water on these cuts and save this critical resource for upstate fire departments."