This vote was on an amendment by Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that would increase firefighter assistance grants by $100 million, and reduce by the same amount the Homeland Security Department’s Science and Technology research and development account. The amendment was offered to the bill that funds the Homeland Security Department in fiscal 2010.
Sanders said many rural communities, which often rely on volunteer forces of firefighters and EMTs, are having trouble recruiting and retaining people. Shifting this money, Sanders said, would go a long way toward helping rural America maintain its firefighter and EMS capability. Without it, Sanders said, communities could be left without vital first responder services.
“At a time when due to the economic crisis fire departments all over this country are laying off firefighters, and in rural America volunteer fire departments are finding it increasingly difficult to attract and retain those firefighters who not only help us, saving our property and our lives, but also are involved in EMS services, we are putting some of that $100 million directly into recruitment and retention for volunteer firefighting efforts. The offset is the science and technology fund, which I have nothing against, but I think the priorities now have to be for firefighting and for volunteer fire departments,” Sanders said.
Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she opposes the amendment, in pat because the underlying bill already contains $810 million for fire grants. She said the money Sanders proposes diverting would “decimate” research on improvised explosive device (IED) countermeasures as well as cybersecurity research and development.
“I believe we should be doing all we can for our firefighters. Even the International Association of Firefighters does not support this amendment—although I appreciate the Senator offering this amendment, and I agree with what he would like to do. But the offset decimates much of the technology we need to protect our citizens,” Murray said.
By a vote of 32-58, the amendment was rejected. Of Democrats present, 28 voted for the amendment (including a majority of the most progressive members) and 23 voted against it. All but three Republicans present voted against the amendment. The end result is that an amendment that would have shifted $100 million from technology research and development to firefighter retention and recruitment grants was rejected.