The two letters – one signed by House members and the other signed by senators – were sent to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate appropriations committees, as well as the chairs and ranking members of the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittees, which have jurisdiction over the program.
The campaign in the House was led by Reps. John Sweeney (R, N.Y.), Steny Hoyer (D, Md.) and Sherry Boehlert (R, N.Y.), and the Senate letter was championed by Sens. Chris Dodd (D, Conn.) and John Warner (R, Va.).
Congress passed the law authorizing SAFER last year, creating the new grant program to hire up to 75,000 new fire fighters. But Congress must still appropriate funding for the program before it can take effect. The funding is likely to be included in the FY2005 Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which is currently being drafted.
The congressional letter points out that two-thirds of all fire departments in the nation, located in both large cities and small towns, do not have sufficient personnel to adequately protect the public and many local governments are facing budget shortfalls making them unable to hire additional fire fighters. The landmark FEMA study, "A Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service," reveals it is common for fire departments to operate with staffing levels that do not meet the minimum safe levels required by OSHA and the National Fire Protection Association.
According to the members who cosigned the SAFER letter, "Congress spoke when it authorized SAFER. We urge you to fulfill the promise we made last year to the nation's fire fighters by providing the necessary funding."