Local agencies providing water and fire protection services in communities across the nation struggle to provide and access adequate resources for fire suppression. In a national report released Tuesday, these agencies urged federal lawmakers to act on recommended solutions to close critical infrastructure gaps.
The National Special Districts Coalition (NSDC) report provides in-depth insights on core issues facing agencies providing water and fire protection services as they fulfill their missions to provide essential public health and safety services. NSDC along with the fire protection and water agency stakeholders involved in creating the report recommend four policy actions for federal lawmakers, paired with three recommendations for trade associations to aid their members in finding solutions to these issues.
Primarily, local governments cite the absence of a financial assistance program aimed to ensure adequate water infrastructure coverage for firefighting in or nearby populated areas as a consistent problem. Driving this concern is the high cost of building infrastructure with sufficient water pressure to serve hydrants, establish water storage, and procure fire vehicles. Agencies also outline additional hardships in the report including ability to access existing federal funding programs, interagency communication coordination, and difficulty achieving awards for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) major fire service grant programs. Nearly all hardships noted in the NSDC report are more pronounced in rural communities.
“Local governments strive to promote public health and safety, especially special districts established with the sole purpose of providing drinking water and fire protection for their communities,” said Cole Karr, NSDC Federal Advocacy Coordinator. “NSDC thanks all the special districts, cities, and counties that participated in this effort to shine light on gaps in water infrastructure for firefighting. These stakeholders played a role in crafting and vetting solutions to the problem at hand, and we look forward to continued collaboration to advance policy priorities based on this study.”
NSDC assembled 24 water and fire protection district leaders from nine states to examine the infrastructure gaps and to formally recommend steps to enhance fire suppression and mitigate fire disaster in communities. The group recommends that Congress:
- Establish pilot, stand-alone cost share grant programs under FEMA to directly aid all types of local governments to address infrastructure gaps for fire suppression needs.
- Provide enhanced technical assistance for local agencies seeking funding opportunities for water and fire infrastructure.
- Make additional appropriations and provide greater flexibility for FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant program.
- Direct a FEMA administrative review of how Agency-approved local disaster mitigation plans are developed to ensure all agencies with eligible mitigation projects have an opportunity to participate.
The working group also offered recommendations to their trade associations and other organizations representing water and fire protection agencies to assist their members with these hardships as well. They recommend that organizations:
- Facilitate communication and collaboration among fire protection and water suppliers.
- Establish scholarship-style funding opportunities for agencies needing assistance to apply for grant and financing programs.
Form relationships with reliable grant writing partners to recommend agencies’ use.