When the Firehouse’s Lights Go Out: Budget Deal Slashes Funds For First Responders

If the lights in your neighborhood fire department are dark, the budget deal that President Obama struck with Congress last week may be the reason. As the New York Times reports, the budget for a program that helps communities facing economic hard times hire police officers was cut by $52 million.

Under the program, cities were awarded grants from the Justice Department to pay the full salary and benefits of new officers for three years, a definite boon to cities like Camden, NJ, and Oakland, CA, which have had to fire police officers in recent years . With the program’s funding severely reduced, roughly 200 fewer officers will be funded this year than last year, when 1,388 officers were hired under it.

Further, the budget deal also starkly reduces funds for a similar program to pay for firefighters in struggling cities. As the New York Times says, cities including Philadelphia, San Diego and Baltimore have used the grants to pay for firefighters, rather than having to use “rolling brownouts,” in which different firehouses are shut down each day because cities cannot afford to staff them. Under the new budget, the amount of money that can be awarded to someone is below the true cost of a firefighter’s salary and fringe benefits and city officials say there is little reason even to apply for the program’s funds. One case in point:

Lawrence, Mass., a city 25 miles north of Boston that laid off 23 firefighters and shut down half of its six firehouses last summer, is a perfect example. The city is in the process of rehiring the 23 firefighters, along with 15 new firefighters, with the help of federal grants. And it will soon reopen one of its closed firehouses.

Officials there doubt that they could have done so if the grants had not covered the full cost of the firefighters. “We don’t have the resources to cover the rest of it,” said Leonard Degnan, the chief of staff to Lawrence’s mayor, William Lantigua. “Without that grant, you would have an absolute public safety fiasco in the city of Lawrence.”

With reduced numbers of firefighters and of police officers in cities with high crimes, public safety is going to be compromised, and at a time when, due to cuts in other social service programs like community mental health services, first responders are already being called on to do a lot more than fight crime.

So much for safety first.


Photo by Rennett Stowe.


jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago


Patti Lounsbury
Patti Lounsbury6 years ago

This is really for lyn L...this gives a fairly brief history of taxation in America. http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005921.html

I hope this is informative.

Zachary S.
Zachary Smith6 years ago

If your saying police and fire are overpaid and receive too great benefits then you are just plain ignorant, We are being slaughtered out there with guns, knives, physical assaults, I make 2.25 an hour to save lives on an ambulance and I have to listen to people say public safety people make too much.

Robert O.
Robert O6 years ago


Pat White
Pat White6 years ago

I don't think we are going in the right direction!

James J.
James J.6 years ago

Federal grants should have never been used to pay for local services in the first place.

We could have twice as many police and firemen if the unions were willing to accept a fair pay, instead on raping the middle class with their over-the-top pensions and pay.

John Coleman
John Coleman6 years ago

Tim L: Why do you “progressives” keep reinventing history??? The GOP DIDN’T CONTROL BOTH HOUSES FOR 12 YEARS. Did you “miss” Majority Leader Daschel? Did you also “miss” Bill Clinton as POTUS for 6 of those years? The GOP actually held HIS spending down during that period. The fact is the deficits and the debt has ballooned under the Dem buffoons and such stunts as the alleged “stimulus” were NOT one time spending but added to the baseline budgets going forward. That’s why we have the problem and this “grants” to state a local governments for “first responders” is just one example. Since half of the taxpayers pay no income tax (many get money "back" via devices like the EITC) and the "rich" pay the bulk of the income taxes this class warfare is just demagoguery.

Ice B.

We have amazing first responders in our community. The guys and gals in the red trucks show up not only for fires, but for any local emergency, from an old person falling out of bed, or a kid with a severe asthma attack. Although professionally trained, they are not paid, when help is needed, the huge siren at the fire hall goes off, I believe the duration of the sound indicates the severity of the emergency. And when it goes, those on call here it and head for the hall. For a fire on our block recently, not only those on call went, but those working at the nearby mill heard it, could see the smoke, and all who were not in crucial positions on the line left to assist. The amount of time they invest in their community, with practices, fund raisers for the burn unit and such is substantial. We love them all!

Larry H.
Larry H.6 years ago

If we keep cutting funding for emergency services, there will be no one to respond to emergencies. The cost will be needless deaths and property loss that could have been avoided, if these budgets hadn't been cut.

Tim L.
Tim L6 years ago

Remember when the republicans controlled both houses of congress for twelve long years, and remember that they also had the White House during six of those years? What did they do during that time? Well, they spent taxpayer money like a bunch of drunken sailors, caused hate and discontent throughout the world, gave tax breaks to the wealthy, and acted like the pack of arrogant jack-asses that they truely are. Why are we broke? Let's thank all of the morons who vote for republicans or their evil twin: the tea baggers!