Luján Introduces Legislation to Support Local Fire Departments
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) introduced the Fire Department Repayment Act to amend the fire department repayment system to ensure local departments are fairly and swiftly compensated for their service. As wildfires intensify with the extremity of climate change, the need for firefighters is at an all-time high. This legislation will address the firefighter shortage by adequately compensating fire departments for their staffing and equipment needs. U.S. Representative Josh Harder (D-Calif.) reintroduced the House companion bill earlier this year.
In 2022, the U.S. had 66,255 wildfires which burned a total of 7,534,403 acres, including the devastating Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire and Cerro Pelado Fire in New Mexico. In both wildfires, the United States Forest Service confirmed their prescribed burns led to these tragic wildfires. Local fire departments and emergency responders played a pivotal role in combating these wildfires and protecting affected communities. Their swift and dedicated response helped contain the spread of the fire, evacuate residents from danger zones, and provide essential aid and support to those in need. The 2022 wildfire season highlighted the importance of collaboration between local and Federal partners to minimize future risks and protect both human lives and the environment.
The Fire Department Repayment Act protects local fire departments to ensure agreements made with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) are honored with transparency and in a timely manner. This legislation aims to provide clarity to fire departments on the amount and timing of reimbursements for wildfire costs by:
- Establishing standard operating procedures for fire suppression costs agreements;
- Ensuring fire suppression costs agreements are reviewed and modified as necessary;
- Expediting reviews of standard operating procedures.
“In New Mexico, we know firsthand what wildfire season means – and every year, fire season highlights the critical need to invest in our local fire departments,” said Senator Luján. “Firefighters are on the front lines of keeping our communities, infrastructure, and environment safe. That’s why I’m proud to introduce this legislation to repurpose the fire department repayment system to help ensure New Mexico’s local fire departments are well-equipped to tackle wildfires.”
“Every day, our local firefighters put everything on the line to keep us safe. Wildfires are only getting bigger and burning longer year after year, and it often falls on our departments to fight these fires on federal lands,” said Representative Harder. “The federal government is responsible for reimbursing our local fire departments for their service, and they shouldn’t be skipping out on the bill. One of the fire departments in my district in California recently responded to a wildfire on federal land while they’re still waiting to be reimbursed for a fire they responded to over a year ago. Local fire departments should be fully and quickly compensated for their work to keep us safe.”
Last year, Senator Luján and New Mexico’s Congressional Democrats secured $3.95 billion to help New Mexicans recover and rebuild through the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act. This legislation establishes an office within FEMA for individuals, businesses, and local governments to receive damages for a number of losses as a result of the fire.