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May 17, 2022

New Jersey to use $10 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for firefighter safety equipment

Departments in the state can apply for up to $75,000 in grants for protective gear, cleaning and sanitizing supplies

New Jersey plans to utilize $10 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding through the American Rescue Plan to provide safety and protective equipment to firefighters and fire departments impacted by the pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy said on Monday. 

The state's new Firefighter Grant Program will allow individual departments to apply for up to $75,000 in funding to use for safety equipment, protective gear like boots, helmets, and gloves, as well as cleaning and sanitizing supples to assist in the ongoing public health crisis. 

Fire departments are among the first responders who have been severely impacted by COVID-19. A study from researchers at the University of Maryland found that 25% of surveyed firefighters reported that a lack of PPE was the primary factor in their decision to not go to work, citing concerns of potentially contracting the virus while on the job. 

On top of much-needed safety equipment, allowing the grant funding to be used for continued availability of PPE and other sanitation equipment will help keep firefighters safe while they continue to do their jobs throughout New Jersey. 

"Confronted by new challenges and obstacles throughout the pandemic, New Jersey's firefighters remained unflagging in their commitment to the safety of their neighbors," said Murphy. "The American Rescue Plan Firefighter Grant Program will help New Jersey fulfill its responsibility to these heroes, whose courage and selflessness in the face of danger demand no less." 

The funding seeks to assist fire departments in supplying resources for both COVID-19 and for on-the-job hazards, which are particularly common among first responders. 

This year alone, 44 firefighters nationwide have died on the job. One New Jersey firefighter — 37-year-old Vincent Doffont of Harrison, Hudson County — passed away earlier this year after suffering a medical episode while training. 

Allocation of grant funding will prioritize volunteer fire departments and individual departments that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Murphy said that the federal funding used for grant programs will take the burden off of taxpayers, who would otherwise have to foot the bill for these much-needed resources. 

"We're now clawing back even more federal dollars to support our local fire departments and first responders, particularly for our smaller ones where resources are even more stretched," said Congressman Josh Gottheimer, a member of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. "This critical investment will not only keep our communities, families, and brave first responders safe, but it will also help lower our property taxes and make life more affordable for New Jersey families." 

There are 718 registered fire departments in New Jersey and more than 75% are volunteer-driven – slightly above the national average. 

A federal effort is underway to provide additional firefighter benefits as a result of the adverse health outcomes faced by the first responders on the job. 

The bill, which passed in the United States House of Representatives on May 11, would presume that firefighters who develop 16 medical conditions did so as a result of their time on the job. The legislation would make it easier for them to apply for workers' compensation benefits.