RELEASE: Gottheimer Announces Demarest Fire Department Clawing Back Federal Investment to Attract, Retain Volunteer Firefighters

Oct 08, 2021

Honors Demarest Water Rescue Team for Saving Lives During Hurricane Ida $210,000+ to Retain Volunteer Firefighters, Lower Taxes, Protect the Community Continuing to Claw Back Federal Investment for North Jersey First Responders

DEMAREST, NJ — Today, October 8, 2021, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) visited the Demarest Fire Department to announce $212,000 in federal investment to attract and retain volunteer firefighters and to help the Department continue protecting the community. This investment is being clawed back through FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response Grant (SAFER) program, to maintain the number of trained frontline firefighters available to local communities.

This federal investment helps lower the property tax burden on local residents and helps keep families safe.

Gottheimer also honored Demarest’s Water Rescue Team for their life-saving efforts during Hurricane Ida.

“Our firefighters are on the front lines protecting us not just from fires, but floods like what we saw with Hurricane Ida, and terrorist attacks. They are keeping our families safe every single day. But our firefighters and all first responders can’t protect us without the staff and the resources they need to do their job safely and effectively,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “That is why I am so proud that we have clawed back $212,000 in federal investment to support this department and help them retain firefighters, while ensuring that we lower local taxes.”

“This grant is going to help us recruit new members, which is very hard in volunteer service throughout the state of New Jersey, and then retain them, with a monthly stipend,” said Demarest Fire Chief John McLoughlin. “Our team loves their jobs, but it is volunteer-based, which can be really hard. With this grant, we will be able to gain and retain more members and continue to protect our town.”

“We are fortunate in Demarest to have a Volunteer Fire Department that is brave, dedicated, and resourceful,” said Demarest Mayor Melissa Iannuzzi. “They displayed their bravery when they rescued a stranded motorist during Tropical Storm Ida, and they have shown their resourcefulness again by acquiring another grant for the Borough. This grant will help to recruit and train new members for the Demarest Volunteer Fire Department.”

The $212,000 SAFER grant investment will be used by the Demarest Fire Department over the next four years to advertise to increase the Department’s membership and to start a much-needed stipend program. This will help the Department combat the manpower shortage that volunteer fire services are grappling with.

Watch the press conference here.

Rep. Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you to the team here at the Demarest Fire Department for your tireless work to keep our community safe, especially during Hurricane Ida — when your water rescue team, some of whom are here today, saved lives and livelihoods during that horrific storm. We just heard from Demarest Fire Chief John McLoughlin, who is a friend of mine and true leader here in North Jersey. Thanks for having us here today.

I’m here to honor the amazing work you have done throughout COVID and during Hurricane Ida, and talk about how we are working together to claw back vital federal resources for your department and for our brave firefighters. These are federal dollars we are clawing back to Jersey from Washington, and that aren’t going to other states – so we can help lower our taxes and ensure that families throughout our district are paying less in local taxes and seeing our tax dollars actually work for us.

So today, we are announcing today that the Demarest Fire Department is clawing back major federal investment: $210,000 through the Staffing For Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant — or the “SAFER” grant.

This is a great tool to bring more of the federal tax dollars that we send to Washington back to Jersey, ensuring that our first responders have the resources they need.

Historically, our state has received pennies back on the dollars we send to Washington, compared to Moocher States like Mississippi, but we’ve made great progress in solving that problem. Last year, I announced that the Fifth District has clawed 108% more federal tax dollars back from Washington and the Moocher States.  I’ve made it a top priority to keep improving the return on investment, because clawing dollars back to New Jersey makes a difference, a real difference to towns all across our District — which is exactly what I’m in Washington to fight for.

The SAFER grant provides federal investment directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter organizations to help increase or maintain the number of trained, frontline firefighters available in their communities.

Clawing these resources back is so vital because North Jersey firefighters have our backs every day — running into fires and saving lives — and it is our duty to have their backs by getting them the equipment and recruitment support they need to stay safe and keep us safe.

Our firefighters are on the front lines protecting us not just from fires, but floods, and terrorist attacks. They are keeping our families safe every single day. But our firefighters and all first responders can’t protect us without the resources they need to do their job safely and effectively.

That is why I am so proud that my team and I are working with towns like Demarest to help departments secure  SAFER grants and other federal investment opportunities. The $210,000 SAFER grant will go out to help all of you.

The Demarest Fire Department has been keeping this community safe since 1894 and is staffed entirely by volunteer members of the community —  28 brave men and women, willing to help their neighbors in times of need. And I am so grateful for each and every one of you.

The pandemic has shown us more clearly than ever before that we need to do more to retain volunteer firefighters and EMS volunteers.  This is grueling, heroic work, and we need to make sure everyone who steps up to protect our communities like this, feels supported.

Unfortunately, we know that some volunteer first responder departments have trouble retaining all the crew they need. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in recent years, the number of volunteer firefighters in our nation is down significantly, with some of the lowest recorded levels of volunteer firefighters in decades.

This $210,000 investment will be used over the next four years to advertise, to increase the Department’s membership, and start a much-needed new stipend program. This will help the Department combat the manpower shortage that the volunteer fire service is grappling with. If you have the packs, but not the people, it doesn’t work. You actually need the firefighters who are willing to run into buildings when other people are running out. And that’s what they do.

This federal investment is on top of the success we’ve already had in recent years to claw back federal resources to the Demarest Fire Department.

With the AFG grant program — called the Assistance to Firefighters Grants — Demarest has been able to claw back funding for critical equipment like radios, self breathing apparatus packs, and air bottles. All equipment that is essential for this department to be able to protect themselves and keep families safe.

By retaining these critical volunteer firefighters and ensuring they have the tools they need, that means that this community will be protected during emergencies and disasters, like what we recently dealt with from Hurricane Ida.

I’m also here today to honor the heroic work this department has done recently to protect our community.

We all saw how Ida was absolutely devastating for North Jersey. We saw unprecedented flooding in homes, businesses, and on our roads. This storm took people’s lives and livelihoods, and it likely would have taken more lives had it not been for our first responders like the heroic members of this department, especially Demarest’s water rescue team.

Let me tell you one pretty amazing story about this team: on the evening that Hurricane Ida dumped torrential rains on North Jersey, there was a man named Chin who was trying to get home from his job in Closter and ended up on back roads through Demarest. Due to the flooding, his truck got stuck in the middle of the road with water rising up in his car and what seemed to be a sinkhole forming around him. But after Demarest DPW operator Jason Gangi on a tractor called the Demarest Fire Department for Chin, Chief McLoughin, Lieutenant Matthew Carey, Lieutenant Matthew Mayer, Firefighters Robert Teunisen, Anthony Barbieri, and Jon Matics were there in no time, and were able to climb into the car and — via the help of the tractor  — and pull Chin to safety, likely saving his life.

This is why we need volunteer firefighters. This is just one story among what I know are countless stories of heroism from this department during the days of Hurricane Ida and other major storms.

Just like law-enforcement does and just like EMS does. This department does truly amazing work to keep Demarest safe and — as I always say — we must always have the backs of those who have had ours. And I promise to always have the backs of this department and fire departments all across North Jersey.

We have got to fight to get these tax dollars back here to Jersey, to make sure we can protect our communities and our families. That’s what this is all about. It’s why we’re here today.

To get the backs of our first responders, I’m committed to continuing our work with fire departments and volunteers like here in Demarest, to help secure federal investment through programs like SAFER and AFG, to boost the Fifth District’s return on investment, to lower the local tax burden on our residents, and to support our heroes who do so much, every single day, to keep our communities safe and secure.

Thanks to first responders and community leaders like all of you — I know that, here in the greatest country in the world, our best days will always be ahead of us.

Thank you and God bless.


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