Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf visited Jacksonville (Florida) Fire and Rescue Department Station 1 on Tuesday, reinforcing recent changes to the Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program ahead of the deadline for the application period.
Wolf visited Jacksonville’s Station 1 to reiterate that cost-sharing requirements of the SAFER grant program were canceled in an effort to encourage grantmaking as municipalities face budget difficulties in a time of pandemic.
“DHS and FEMA will provide fire departments with 100% of the funding needed to hire and pay firefighters for the next three years,” Wolf explained, with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Fire Chief Keith Powers and U.S. Fire Administration head Keith Bryant in attendance, backed by a tiller in station.
DHS and FEMA will allow the 2020 funding to be used for retaining firefighters facing imminent layoff and rehiring firefighters who may have been laid off as well.
The deadline to apply for the SAFER grant is May 27, 5 p.m. EST.
“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented action,” Wolf told reporters, “and we believe that these waivers will provide much-needed relief for our first responders.”
He continued: “Our meeting and the visit here symbolizes an important first step toward growing a robust, highly-trained firefighter community. Firefighters of the future will need to be prepared to respond to a myriad of hazardous situations.”
Congressman John Rutherford (R-Fla.), a former sheriff who represents the north Florida district, added that Congress had increased SAFER grants for fiscal 2020 – apart from $100 million allocated by the CARES Act to PPE used extensively by first responders and healthcare professionals in the fight against coronavirus. Bryant noted that COVID-19 presented “obviously another level of hazard” faced by frontline personnel.
Intended for departments not just to hire and rehire firefighters but to retain personnel based on salary figures, Wolf said the three-year cost-share waiver will allow for “a number of flexibilities over the next several fiscal years for this particular grant program.”
Seeking to ease the fiscal strains faced by state and local governments wherever possible under current law, Wolf was supportive: “When we talk about hiring 40 firefighters and having a cost share that at 25%, it does add up. So, allowing them to use that funding to plug other holes, look at other priorities they have, we thought was very important.”
Had a chance to meet with @RepRutherfordFL, Mayor @lennycurry, and Fire Chief Keith Powers to discuss ways that @DHSgov is supporting our brave firefighters, the tip of the spear of local responses to #COVID19. pic.twitter.com/zEcVJgOdlV
— Acting Secretary Chad Wolf (@DHS_Wolf) May 26, 2020
ActionNewsJax shared this video of the event: