House fires don't happen every day, but when they do, everyone wants to have a good insurance policy and well-trained, well-equipped firefighters who can keep their families safe.
But local governments challenged with balancing their budgets are being forced to reduce fire protection service. This can be devastating for Ohio's small towns, rural areas, townships and big cities. A reduction in fire support means aging equipment may not be replaced and skilled firefighters may be forced into early retirement.
Fortunately, cash-strapped cities are not alone.
These cities can apply for relief through two competitive grant programs administered by the Department of Homeland Security that help communities hire and train firefighters while ensuring that existing fire departments have the staffing they need to safely perform their jobs.
Unfortunately, these federal initiatives soon may see fewer resources. The House of Representatives' Appropriations Committee initially voted to reduce funding for firefighters' assistance by almost 60 percent. Faced with a firestorm of criticism, it backed off and passed a 17 percent reduction - the same figure proposed by the Obama administration's budget request.
I strongly support efforts to reduce the federal deficit. But I'd prefer we cut subsidies to big oil companies making record profits than taking away resources that ensure our fire departments have the breathing equipment, vehicles and staffing they need to protect the public.
These federal grants have been important to every region of the Buckeye State.
Since 2009, Ohio has received more than $100 million in competitive grants to keep communities, businesses, schools and families safe from fire and fire-related hazards. We cannot afford to neglect this critical program.
The Assistance to Firefighters Grant program provides resources to purchase protective gear and emergency vehicles, and provide training. In Clermont County, the Goshen Township Fire Department and EMS team were able to use the grants for operations and safety equipment.
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response - SAFER - program primarily is used to recruit and train volunteer and professional firefighters, especially in villages, townships and cities forced to scale back on fire protection due to fiscal restraints. In Butler County, the Ross Township Fire Department and Hamilton Fire Department received SAFER grants to hire firefighters.
A partnership with the federal government is important. From Hamilton County to Ashland County to Gallia County, Ohio firefighters have been able to acquire and maintain the tools and skills needed to perform their jobs efficiently and effectively with the support of homeland security resources.
The federal government has a responsibility to protect the first responders - such as firefighters - who keep us safe. That's why I plan to reintroduce the Firefighter Fatality Reduction Act, which would reduce the number of avoidable deaths among firefighters. Rather than impose new mandates on local departments, this legislation would require the Department of Homeland Security to lead collaborative efforts to ensure adequate protections are in place for every woman and man who fights fires.
As your voice in Washington, I will continue to stand with them as they advocate for the resources they need to do their jobs well.
Just as it is penny-wise and pound foolish to let your fire insurance policy lapse, we should not shortchange firefighters for the resources they need to keep Ohio communities safe.