First responders serve and protect every community in America by preventing and fighting crime, responding to fires and other disasters and rendering emergency medical assistance. They are the first line of defense in national security and are essential to efforts to keep America safe and secure. The demands on first responders are heavy, unrelenting and they put themselves at great personal risk to serve their fellow citizens. Senator Leahy has been a longtime advocate for first responders, working to ensure state and local law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel (EMS) have the support they need to meet the difficult challenges they face every day.
As the most senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Leahy has worked to provide stable and strong funding for several federal grant programs to help state and local law enforcement, firefighters and emergency personnel. He is an original author and the leading advocate for the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act, which has provided matching federal grants to state and local authorities to purchase nearly 1.2 million bulletproof vests for law enforcement officers serving in the field. Senator Leahy introduced the bipartisan Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program Reauthorization Act of 2015 with Senator Graham, which would continue the program for another five years. Local law enforcement agencies still struggle to replace defective and expired vests. Although vests cannot save every officer, they dramatically increase the chance of survival when tragedy occurs. Vests are credited with saving the lives of more than 3,000 officers since 1987. Senator Leahy believes that no officer should have to serve without one.
Senator Leahy also fought for passage of the Dale Long Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2012, which was enacted on January 2, 2013. This measure reformed the U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Safety Officers Benefits Program, which provides a crucial safety net for the families of first responders who are killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty, by expanding coverage to nonprofit EMS providers and first responders who suffer fatal heart attacks, strokes and vascular ruptures while on duty. In Vermont alone, the Dale Long Act will qualify an estimated 1,200 EMS personnel for the federal program.
Senator Leahy believes that the Federal Government plays an important role in supporting state and local first responders and promoting the general welfare of all communities— as communities become safer, local economies become more prosperous. And most importantly, safer communities create the environment for children and families to live, work and thrive.