Our nation’s firefighters are among our bravest first responders, constantly putting themselves in harm’s way to help keep our communities safe. Whether they serve in a large city or a small town, whether they are called to a major catastrophe or a local emergency, they respond when the alarm sounds. They head into danger when others flee. They risk their lives to save our lives.

Whether career or volunteer, America’s firefighters deserve our respect and our gratitude.

They also deserve federal support for their efforts to prevent fires, to rescue and care for victims, to promote fire safety, and to improve skills and techniques. As Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I, along with a bipartisan group of my colleagues, recently introduced legislation to renew funding for the U.S. Fire Administration through 2017.

Since its creation in 1974, the Fire Administration and its Fire Academy have helped prevent fires, protect property, and save lives among firefighters and the public. Today, the Fire Administration is also integrated into our national, all-hazards systems and our homeland-security efforts.

Through the Fire Administration’s work in helping to administer the FIRE Act and SAFER Act grants, our nation’s firefighters are able to access the resources they need to support their work. I have worked hard to help ensure our firefighters have the resources they need to help defend our people against the ancient enemy of fire, as well as the newer challenges of terrorism and hazardous materials.

The FIRE Act grants program has been an effective and efficient way to provide those resources. Equipment, new and used vehicles, and training strengthen our fire services, and help protect the more than 1.3 million firefighters and emergency responders. The direct aid awarded to local fire departments through FIRE grants is proof that these programs succeed in delivering support where it is needed. Since the program’s creation in 2001, Maine fire departments have been awarded more than $56 million. So far this year, communities around Maine have received more than $2 million. These include fire departments in Andover, Denmark, Eddington, Fayette, Madawaska, Monroe, Newport and Norway.

Here in Maine, we are keenly aware of the dangers of fire and the importance of effective fire services. Maine is one of the most rural states in the nation, and much of our housing stock is old and wood-framed. According to the Maine Department of Public Service, 23 Mainers died in fires in 2011. That’s more than double the number of fire-related deaths in 2010. It’s clear that we must continue to promote the wider use of smoke detectors and improved building codes, and to increase fire-prevention efforts. As our national resource and clearinghouse for fire research, education, and training, the Fire Administration will continue to play a key role. It is a fine example of the good that can result from federal, state, and local collaboration to counter the danger of fire and to address new threats that firefighters face.

Our firefighters put their lives on the line at every call to save others and protect property, whether in a single house fire or in a widespread disaster. We owe them all a debt of gratitude, and we must continue to work to help ensure that they are kept as safe as possible as they protect each of us.