February 28, 2002

Senator Bond Tells Local Firemen Federal Aid Increase Is Forthcoming

Senator Kit Bond told volunteer firemen from across northeast Missouri that he is planning to introduce legislation in the U.S. next month that will dramatically increase federal funding for all emergency service organizations.

Sen. Bond attended the meeting held in the Greentop fire station where representatives from fire departments in Scotland, Putnam. Schuyler and Adair counties gathered on February 25.

The funding change comes in the wake of the September 11, 2001 national tragedy. Last year federal funding for fire departments, police and other emergency outfits was budgeted at $360 million. Bond told the gathering that President Bush has indicated that number may jump as high as $3.5 billion.

"They say the terrorist attacks on that faithful day changed everything. The world did not change. It's always been a dangerous place. Firemen, police officers and EMS personnel are risking their lives every day for us. It may not be a terrorist attack. Instead it's a two-alarm fire in someone's kitchen or in a grain bin, or a motor vehicle accident. Whatever the case these people are here when we need them."

Bond went on to describe the volunteers who provide these emergency services as "the Minutemen of the 21st Century."

While Sen. Bond seemed assured that the additional funding would be coming for firemen and other EMS workers, he was unsure of how the money could be best distributed to the local units. He asked for ideas and suggestions from those in attendance at the event.

Two complaints Bond stated he had heard in regards to the federal funding process were mass paperwork as well as the trickle down of revenue from the state level.

"I keep hearing 'I didn't volunteer to be a fireman to spend all my time filling out paperwork and reports'," Bond said. He added that he also heard complaints that too much of federal funding is siphoned away at the state level leaving too little to reach the small, rural areas where it is most needed.

The local firemen offered several issues for Bond's consideration. One fireman posed the problem of recruitment of new volunteers. The firemen suggested that the volunteer service of firemen be elevated similar to national guard service, where employers allow their workers to leave the shop in order to help fight a fire.

Another suggestion to assist with recruitment was the proposal of a small tax credit for the volunteers.

In addition to recruitment, other problems facing rural departments mostly center around funding.

"We have to perform to the same standards and conditions of the big city paid fire department's and here we are working on a $13,000 annual budget based solely on membership sales," one fireman told Bond.

Sen. Bond told the gathering that while the federal funding would offer aid to the departments it could not replace the local tax base and membership revenues.

"Somehow we have to make citizens aware that local revenues for these services must also increase," Bond said. "The federal government is not going to take over all these needs."

Insuring the funding reached the need areas was the topic that generated the most discussion.

Several ideas were proposed including spending a portion of the money to hire additional personnel for the state fire marshal's office. These officers would be charged with determining the needs of local departments in their service area and distributing the federal funding appropriately.

Other options included the state fire association and the University of Missouri Fire Training organization.

Sen. Bond told the firemen he would like to hear their suggestions as soon as possible before he plans to introduce the Fire Act bill sometime next month.

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