It's an ongoing problem in New Jersey that continues to get worse.

As more and more towns try to do more with less, struggling to provide necessary programs and services with limited financial resources, volunteer and paid fire departments in towns across the Garden State are finding it increasingly difficult to attract and retain members.

Help is available through a federal program.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is providing Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant money to professional fire companies as well as groups and organizations that help to attract volunteer firefighters across the Garden State.

According to Ed Donnelly, the president of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, these funds are critically important to helping fire companies remain properly staffed to deal with fires and other emergencies in their local communities.

“It really tries to take these departments and help them out financially with getting the staffing, but it also takes into consideration the standards that should be met by every fire department operating today," Donnelly said.

SAFER grants not only can be used to hire new firefighters, they can also be used to rehire firefighters that have been laid off and to fill positions vacated through attrition.

Donnelly stressed this is extremely important because "recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters in our day today with the economy the way it is has been really tough."

He said the grants have allowed numerous Jersey fire companies, including those in Trenton, East Orange, Paterson and Elizabeth to maintain their ranks “and manpower at levels that are absolutely more safe."

Donnelly noted New Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell was the original driving force behind creating the SAFER grant program in New Jersey and across the country decades ago.

A total of $350 million in SAFER grant funding is made available through FEMA every year.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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