Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., has introduced legislation to help local agencies fill vacancies left by personnel called up for service in the National Guard or Reserves.
The bill is in response to the concerns of first responders in North Dakota and across the nation.
"Many of our firemen, police officers and EMTs double as citizen soldiers in the National Guard and Reserves. When these brave men and women deploy overseas, local fire, police and ambulance services are forced to manage without key personnel," said Conrad. "My bill will help ensure that communities are not left ill-prepared to respond to emergencies and disasters due to the activation of one of their first responders."
When a first responder or public safety employee is deployed, communities often must hire a temporary replacement for the employee or pay overtime costs for other employees to cover the deployed employee's duties. This often results in additional expenses that can cause economic hardships for affected communities.
Conrad's legislation "Strengthening Community Safety Act" would create a grant program through the Department of Homeland Security to reimburse state and local first responder agencies for any extraordinary financial burden that resulted from the deployment of one or more of their employees.
Eligible reimbursable expenses include: the salary of an individual hired to replace an employee and overtime expenses for an employee performing tasks that would have been performed by the deployed employee.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., is the lead sponsor of the bill. The legislation is based on Conrad's 2007 Reinforce FREEDOM Act, which would have established a Homeland Security grant program to provide funding for local communities who lose first responders to National Guard deployments.
The bill has been endorsed by the Association of the United States Navy, the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, the National Guard Association of the United States and the Retired Enlisted Association .