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US Senator Martin Heinrich’s Local Firefighters and First Responders Support Act Signed Into Law

SENATE News:

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, President Joe Biden signed legislation sponsored by U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) to expand federal programs that help local fire departments meet staffing needs, purchase equipment, develop firefighting training and education programs, and improve emergency medical services.

This Fire Protection and Safety Subsidies Act Reauthorizes two federal grant programs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that have distributed more than $15.3 million to local fire departments in New Mexico. The programs were set to expire this year but are now reauthorized through 2030. The bill also reauthorizes the United States Fire Administration (USFA) through 2028.

“New Mexico’s firefighters and first responders are heroes who deserve our full support. I am proud that our bill is now law — to ensure they have the equipment and personnel they need,” Heinrich said. “I will continue to fight to keep the people who risk their lives to keep us safe.”

Federal programs reauthorized by the legislation include FEMA Providing adequate staff to respond to emergencies and fires (SAFER) Scholarship Program and Firefighter Assistance Grant (AFG) Program and the United States Fire Administration (USFA), the lead federal agency engaged in fire data collection, public fire education, fire research, and fire service training.

The SAFER Grant Program provides funding directly to career, volunteer and community fire departments to help them increase or maintain the number of trained “front-line” firefighters available in their communities.

The AFG program supports the fire and emergency response needs of fire departments and independent ambulance organizations. Since 2001, AFG has helped firefighters and other first responders obtain the necessary equipment, personal protective equipment, emergency vehicles, training and other resources necessary to protect the public and emergency personnel from fire and related hazards.

For years, New Mexico has been grappling with a severe firefighter shortage—from San Juan County to Santa Fe County and beyond. More than 78% of New Mexico’s fire departments are volunteers, and nearly 10% more are primarily volunteers, according to the USFA.

Since 2015, the SAFER program has awarded federal grants to support hiring and recruiting for local fire departments in Bernalillo County, Albuquerque, Otero County, Rio Rancho, Las Cruces, Hobbs, Bernalillo, San Juan County, Abiquiu Fire Protection District and Mayhill Volunteer Fire Department.

“The SAFER grant is a critical tool used by fire departments of all sizes to increase staffing,” said Bernalillo County Fire Chief Greg Perez. “Bernalillo County has greatly benefited from the SAFER grant in the past and looks forward to applying again in the future.”

The Bernalillo County Fire Department recently received nearly $1.5 million from the SAFER program to support the hiring of new firefighters and EMTs. Chief Perez continued, “Hiring is one of the most expensive things a municipality can do financially, and knowing that we can hire individuals with a three-year federal waiver makes it easier to overcome that.”

Since 2015, the AFG program has provided federal funding for equipment, operations, and safety to local and volunteer departments in Mesilla Roswell, San Juan County, New Mexico Firefighters Training Academy, Los Alamos County, Las Cruces, Sandoval County, Doña Ana County, Otero County, Albuquerque, Valencia County, Santa Fe County, Carlsbad, Gallup, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Silver City, Alamogordo, San Miguel County, Questa Volunteer Fire Department, Datil Fire District, Angel Fire Department, Sierra Bonita Rincon Volunteer Fire Department, and Santo Domingo Fire and EMS.