Tester Bill to Boost Firefighting Capacity in Montana Passes Senate

Senator leads bipartisan bill to reauthorize Assistance to Firefighter, SAFER Grants

As part of his continued effort to support emergency services in Montana and keep communities safe, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today passed his bipartisan Fire Grants and Safety Act to reauthorize the Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) Program, and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant Program – both of which provide resources for fire service agencies to improve staffing and purchase equipment.

“Montana’s firefighters are often the first line of defense when disaster strikes, and I’ll always do everything in my power to ensure they have the necessary resources to keep our communities safe,” said Tester. “Firefighters have dangerous jobs, and it’s critical they have the equipment and personnel needed to safely handle emergencies. I’m proud to get this much needed bipartisan bill across the finish line in the Senate, and I’ll keep taking the lead from our firefighters and first responders when it comes to keeping Montana safe.”

Tester’s bipartisan bill will reauthorize the AFG and SAFER Programs, as well as increase funding for the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) through 2030. AFG and SAFER are the main sources of federal funding for firefighters and help departments purchase equipment and increase staffing – and both programs are set to expire in 2024. USFA provides important data, training, education, and more for fire and EMS personnel, and Tester’s bill will increase the authorized funding level for USFA from $76.5 million to $95 million through FY30.

Fire chiefs in Montana praised Tester’s bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 95-2.

“AFG and SAFER provide critical funding for Montana’s firefighters,” said George Richards, Montana State Council of Professional Firefighters and the Montana State Firefighters Associations President. “This legislation will help fire and EMS departments across the state hire much needed staff, buy new engines and safety gear, and upgrade and maintain their stations. We thank Senator Tester for being a leader of the Fire Grants and Safety Act, supporting the passage of a clean bill in the Senate, and ensuring that Montana firefighters have the tools and resources they need to keep their communities safe.” 

“Many departments have benefited from AFG and SAFER here in Montana; Bozeman, Great Falls, Columbus, Red Lodge, Missoula, Lewistown, and Miles City just to name a few,” said Rich Cowger, Chief of Columbus Volunteer Fire and Rescue and President Montana State Fire Chiefs Association. “As fire departments across the state continue to try and deliver services in our growing communities, the necessity of these grants has become even more important. We look forward to working with Senator Tester to get the Fire Grants and Safety Act signed into law and ensure that this critical funding is available for years to come. 

“Volunteer and combination fire and EMS departments across Montana provide vital services in rural communities – but we also struggle to keep the lights on, put fuel in our trucks, and purchase safe turnout gear for our firefighters,” said Mike Doto, Chief of Centerville Volunteer Fire Department and member of the Montana State Volunteer Firefighters Association. “The AFG and SAFER programs are critical to these departments because they allow us to purchase needed equipment and incentivize volunteers to serve our communities. We appreciate Senator Tester’s efforts to support this legislation and to ensure that volunteer and combination departments are not left behind.” 

Tester’s bipartisan bill is supported by the Congressional Fire Services Institute, International Association of Fire Fighters, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Volunteer Fire Council, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, International Society of Fire Service Instructors, and National Fire Protection Association.

Tester currently serves as Chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, and has long been a champion for Montana’s firefighters. Last month, Tester reintroduced his bipartisan Fire Station Construction Grant Act, which would create a $750 million federal grant program to build, maintain, and update fire stations across the United States. This past year, Tester passed his Putting First Responders First Act to clarify current tax code ensuring first responders do not have to pay taxes on injury-related compensation when hurt in the line of duty as part of the 2023 government funding bill. The bill also included $720 million for the AFG and SAFER programs to help fire departments purchase equipment and hire additional firefighters. Tester was the only member of the delegation to support the bill. 

Last year, Tester also secured pay raises for federal wildland firefighters through his bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and helped pass the Fairness for Federal Firefighters Act to create a presumption that certain cancers and cardiovascular disease are job related for the purpose of workers’ compensation and disability retirement as part of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).