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Heinrich Bill to Support Local Firefighters and Emergency Responders Signed into Law

WASHINGTON — Today, a bill backed by U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) to extend federal programs that help local fire departments address staffing needs, purchase equipment, develop fire training and education programs, and improve emergency medical services, was signed into law by President Joe Biden. 

The Fire Grants and Safety Act reauthorizes two federal grant programs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which have provided over $15.3 million to local fire departments in New Mexico. Those 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’m proud that our bill is now law — to ensure they have the equipment and personnel they need,” said Heinrich. “I will keep fighting to deliver for the folks who put their lives on the line to keep us safe.”

The federal programs reauthorized by the legislation are FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant Program and the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program, as well as the United States Fire Administration (USFA), the lead federal agency for fire data collection, public fire education, fire research, and fire service training. 

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

The AFG Program supports the firefighting and emergency response needs of fire departments and non-affiliated emergency medical service organizations. Since 2001, AFG has helped firefighters and other first responders obtain critically needed equipment, protective gear, emergency vehicles, training and other resources necessary for protecting the public and emergency personnel from fire and related hazards. 

For years, New Mexico has faced severe shortages of firefighters – from San Juan County to Santa Fe County, and elsewhere. According to the USFA, over 78% of fire departments in New Mexico are volunteer, and nearly 10% more are mostly volunteer.

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

“The SAFER grant is a critical tool utilized by fire departments of all sizes to increase our staffing,” said Bernalillo County Fire Chief Greg Perez. “Bernalillo County has benefited greatly from the SAFER grant in the past and look forward to having an opportunity to apply again in the future.”

The Bernalillo County Fire Department most recently received nearly $1.5 million from the SAFER program to support the hiring of new firefighters and first responders. Chief Perez continued, “Staffing is one of the most expensive undertakings any municipality has financially knowing that we can have individuals hired with relief from the federal government for a three-year period makes that easier to overcome.”

Since 2015, the AFG program has provided federal funds for equipment, operations, and safety to local and volunteer departments in Mesilla Roswell, San Juan County, the New Mexico Firefighters Training Academy, 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, the Questa Volunteer Fire Department, Los Alamos County, the Datil Fire District, Angel Fire, the Sierra Bonita Rincon Volunteer Fire Department, and Santo Domingo Fire and EMS.