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Higgins announces bill to include rail disaster preparedness in federal fire grant program


Mon, May 2nd 2016 04:35 pm

Legislation would expand grants to fund training, equipment for train derailment responders

Congressman Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, announced introduction of the Fire Department Proper Response and Equipment Prioritization Act (H.R.4765), a bill aimed at better equipping emergency personnel responding to train derailment accidents.

"This legislation provides a common-sense addition to the federal fire grant program to better assist communities that are working collaboratively to prepare and equip themselves for rail-based emergency situations," said Higgins, a member of the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security.

Higgins pointed to the most recent freight train derailment in the Washington, D.C., area as well as local incidents including a derailment involving an ethanol tanker in Ripley, which took place in March, and a 2013 Cheektowaga derailment of a freight train carrying crude oil as evidence of the need to support response capabilities.

The bipartisan FD PREP Act was recently introduced with Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Rep. Rick Larsen. The bill directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency to include and give high-priority consideration to grants providing for planning, training and equipment to firefighters for crude oil-by-rail and ethanol-by-rail derailment and incident response.

Erie County Emergency Services Commissioner Dan Neaverth said, "The equipping and training of our first responders so that they are adequately prepared for a rail incident is imperative. Firefighters across the nation are united in our duty to always provide the highest level of response; however, current AFG funding categorization impedes purchasing equipment specific to this area of need. Recent high-profile rail incidents have focused the public's attention to "fear the worst." I believe prioritization of AFG grant funds for rail incident response equipment puts the required tools into the hands of our first responders, while simultaneously easing concerns often expressed by the public."

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program makes funds available for operations and safety improvements, including training, equipment, safety modifications, personal protective equipment and recruitment to fire departments and emergency agencies. The Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act provided $306 million in AFG program funding for fiscal year 2015.

The federal fire grant program is administered by the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency in cooperation with the U.S. Fire Administration. All applications are then submitted to DHS and go through a nonpartisan, merit-based review ranked by factors established by a panel of service professionals.

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