I find myself a bit perplexed and emotions mixed as it relates to the recent news that President Obama wants to cut AFG while increasing SAFER grant funding. The line fire fighter in me says yea for increased staffing! My alter-ego, fire and injury prevention guy, is very concerned as to how the cut to the AFG may impact prevention and education programs across the country.
My department, Montgomery County (MD) Fire and Rescue, has benefited from both grants over the last several years. We have addressed just about every need that is related to both grant processes. The SAFER Grant will help us as we just opened a new fire station and have another new one opening later this fiscal year.
But my dilemma comes from the fact that fire and injury prevention education programs are taking big hits here in the Washington-Metro area and across the country. A Blue Ribbon Senior Citizen Fire Safety Task Force Panel recommended that we hire a Senior Citizen Fire/Injury Prevention Specialist to provide education and outreach to our most vulnerable population. That has been cut out of the budget. Several departments in the area have either significantly reduced or entirely cut out public education staff.
I can not imagine they are going to use the SAFER Grant to ask for public education staffing – which I believe you can use it for that purpose. Preventing fires equals preventing fire fighter deaths. Seems pretty important and a no brainer that public education should be a priority for everyone! Thankfully it is for our new Chief!
However, many departments seem to forget the following from the Everyone Goes Home Program. It is something we like to call initiative number 14 and it says: Public education must receive more resources and be championed as a critical fire and life safety program.
With the vast reductions in budgets across the country and now the potential reduction in the AFG, I feel that #14 becomes somewhat of a hollow and unrealistic goal for the national fire service. Does this really make our fire service SAFER?