Congress works toward fed. funds for local fire services amid low volunteerism, high needs
DELAWARE – Congressional lawmakers are working to advance a bill that would secure federal funding for fire companies across the nation.
Calling For Federal Funds
In Delaware, the Fire Grants and Safety Act could make a big impact.
“As we all know, everything across the board is going up; the cost of fire trucks, the apparatus, the cost of materials, the cost of training, everything is increasing,” said Executive Manager of the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters Association (DVFA), Norman “Jay” Jones.
Jones says fire companies across Delaware often rely on grant opportunities, and volunteers, to keep their firefighters trained, and sirens wailing.
“We’re volunteers for the most part, in the state of Delaware. But, we are professionals. You have to be trained to the same standards, the same quality that we’re putting out, which takes time,” said Jones. “The firefighter in the State of Delaware isn’t just when the house is on fire. [The fire house is] a mainstay in most of our communities.”
Grants Only Go So Far
Last grant cycle, the DVFA was awarded a four-year grant, worth over $1 million. However, Jones says grants only go such a long way. More permanent funding is needed, on top of state money, says Jones.
“We couldn’t operate without [state funding]. But, it only makes up about a little bit less than half of our budget,” said Jones. “So, we have to take our time with fundraising, hall rentals, all those other resources, to help make that part of the budget up to operate.”
It’s something that lawmakers like Delaware’s senior U.S. Senator Tom Carper have been fighting for in the halls of Congress. That battle continues, as the need for fire service only grows here at home, and communities are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Most of the firefighters in Delaware are volunteers. They don’t do this for the money; they do it because they feel it’s the right thing to do,” said Sen. Carper. “There’s somebody who will come in the middle of the night, and help you and your family. It turns out it’s not just a government responsibility. A lot of fire companies raise [their own] money… With the advent of COVID-19, the ability of fire companies to raise their own money has been made more difficult.”
Keeping Hands on Deck, and Crews Equipped
Jones says that as fire companies navigate those challenges, volunteerism is at a low.
“We need to re-market, rebrand ourselves, in order to get more volunteers in, and get that supply pool stocked, and train new firefighters to be able to complete our mission,” said Jones. “A lot of people don’t have time to spend three or four weekends, Saturdays and Sundays, when they’re off their full-time job, to put in training to be a firefighter.”
Local fire companies can only keep up with that demand, says Jones, if they’re properly equipped to do so.
“Tools for EMS, projectors, also equipment as far as fire trucks that we can use at our training facilities. That way, we’re not taking our emergency apparatus out of service to come train with,” said Jones. “We can do that marketing, we can do that outreach statewide, not just here in Sussex county, but in all the counties throughout the state of Delaware.”
Sen. Carper says the Fire Grants and Safety Act is making promising progress.
“It passed the United States Senate with only two dissenting votes, which doesn’t happen every day. It’s over in the House of Representatives, and with the help and leadership of our Congresswoman, Lisa Blunt Rochester, hopefully the House will follow suit,” said Sen. Carper. “The idea of helping people in extraordinary ways, and in their case, not asking for anything in return, is the source of enormous pride and joy, and thank God for them.”