In the middle of a pandemic that has taken the lives of 26 firefighters, the nation is losing more firefighters. COVID-19 related budget cuts—in communities large and small—have resulted in the layoff or furlough of at least 935 fire department employees, including front-line firefighters, EMTs & paramedics. This new data comes from an International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) survey that also projects as many as 30,000 fire department jobs lost this year and next.
“The same firefighters the country considered essential in battling COVID-19 are suddenly told they’re no longer needed,” says International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) President Gary Ludwig. “With almost 1,000 firefighters and support personnel missing from the front lines at this early stage, it’s clear these cuts will be deep and long-standing. Significant and meaningful federal funding is essential to prevent the largest cuts to fire and EMS since the Great Depression.”
Losing front line firefighters means much more than another person without a job and another family hurting. According to Chief Ludwig, “These losses mean our fire departments are less prepared to deal with COVID-19 and every other emergency. Fire and EMS stations will close. Our citizens will wait longer for help when they call 911.”
The pandemic’s impact goes beyond paid, career firefighters. Donations to volunteer fire departments are down due to high unemployment. Key fundraising events are cancelled because of stay-at-home orders. It’s expected COVID-19 cuts will force some volunteer departments to close, leaving entire communities without nearby fire and emergency medical services.
The IAFC is asking Congress and The White House to help offset these losses with a request of $10 billion that will go directly to the nation’s fire departments. Two very successful grant programs authorized by Congress years ago are the most efficient means to quickly get help to communities facing the loss of fire protection and emergency medical services.
One program, Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response Grants (SAFER), has been operating since 2003. SAFER helps career and volunteer departments maintain front-line firefighter staffing. Since 2000, Assistance for Firefighters Grants (AFG) has provided critically needed resources to equip and train emergency personnel. Each year, members of Congress proudly announce these grants for fire departments in their states and districts. It has never been more needed than now.
Chief Ludwig says, “As we continue to mourn the loss of our fallen brothers and sisters and worry about other firefighters who’ve lost their jobs, our focus—as always—is on the people we serve. Without federal help, our fellow citizens will suffer as they wait longer for fire and EMS to arrive. Congress and The White House are the only ones who can prevent this from happening. Firefighters need heroes too. We need Congress and The White House to act now.”
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