Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Firefighter safety bill introduced in Senate

From FireChief.com:

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced legislation that would promote compliance with consensus safety standards to reduce the number of firefighter fatalities. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is the bill's cosponsor.

While the National Fire Protection Association and other groups have developed industry safety standards, they are voluntary and often ignored by fire departments, Brown said. Brown’s bill would encourage the adoption of national consensus firefighter-safety standards and promote fire department compliance with such standards.

“We shouldn’t have to think twice about bolstering the safety of our firefighters,” Brown said. “Our first responders put their lives at risk daily. We should take this opportunity to prevent fire fighter injury and death.”

Brown’s legislation, the Firefighter Fatality Reduction Act, would require the Department of Homeland Security to determine the rate of fire department compliance with standards for safe operations, staffing, training and fitness among career, volunteer and combination fire departments. It would create a task force to explore the adoption of safety standards by fire departments and provide recommendations to Congress, states, and localities on how to increase fire department compliance with safety standards. This bill would not mandate federal oversight of local fire departments, but instead would explore how the federal government could best promote firefighter-safety standards and assist fire departments with compliance.

Brown also is the sponsor of the Fire Fighter Higher Education Incentive Act of 2007 which would help federal, state, city, and county fire districts recruit highly educated fire fighters by forgiving student loans taken out by firefighters under the federal Perkins Loan program. All employees in fire protection would be eligible for the benefit, including fire fighters, paramedics, EMTs, rescue workers, ambulance personnel, and hazardous materials workers. Under current law, Perkins debt for teachers, nurses, military and law enforcement officers can be forgiven.

“Loan forgiveness is both well deserved and an effective recruitment tool,” Brown said.

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