Advancing the EMS profession

Top News

All News

Sen. Durbin Highlights Grant Funding for Rural EMS Agencies in Speech on Senate Floor

Mar 31, 2023

Sen. Durbin met with Illinois EMS professionals to discuss funding he has secured for rural Illinois, his bipartisan SIREN Reauthorization Act.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, today delivered a speech on the Senate floor about the importance of supporting rural fire and emergency medical services (EMS) agencies.  These rural EMS providers deliver timely, vital care to their communities often facing health care workforce shortages and long distances to access hospitals.  In his remarks, Durbin spoke about his bipartisan law, the SIREN Act, which was passed in the 2018 Farm Bill to provide grant funding for public, tribal, and private non-profit fire and EMS agencies in rural communities nationwide.  Since becoming law, grants have been awarded to rural fire and EMS agencies in Nauvoo, Amboy, Jerseyville, and Gibson City, Illinois.  

Durbin began his speech by recounting the origin of the SIREN Act.  In 2018, Durbin met with a group of EMTs, including Mark and Mavis Kennedy, from Nauvoo, Illinois, who emphasized the importance of proper training and equipment for EMS workers in rural counties.

“I was visited by a couple of emergency service personnel from Illinois, Mark and Mavis Kennedy.  They’re EMTs in Nauvoo, Illinois, a historic town on the western part of downstate Illinois.  They told us about trying to provide ambulance and emergency health services in a rural county, in this case, Hancock County, where Nauvoo is located,” Durbin said.  “They talked about the expense of upgrading the equipment and their ambulances so that they can make sure that the person that they're trying to help gets all of the necessary medical care on the way to the hospital.”

“We dreamed up an idea, and I want to credit the Kennedys as well as Chief Andrew Jackson from Magnolia, [Illinois], and many others who said, ‘why don’t we have a grant program specifically for equipment in these ambulances and for the training of emergency medical personnel in rural areas?’” Durbin continued.

Durbin went on to describe how he worked to make the legislation bipartisan and garner support for the idea in the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry.  

“I went to the [then-]Chair of the Agriculture Committee, Senator Pat Roberts of rural Kansas, and said to him, ‘Pat, I think we've got an idea here that's going to help communities not only in our states but across the nation.’ He generously agreed to serve as my cosponsor on a bill that we called the SIREN Act,” said Durbin.  “The SIREN Act said to these ambulance services and emergency medical responders, you can apply for assistance and help to the federal government, and we will try to help you buy the new equipment you need to make sure that your ambulance is right where it needs to be.”

Durbin reiterated the importance of properly equipping rural EMS agencies as they are frequently the first, and sometimes only, medical care professionals in their communities—and often providing services on a volunteer basis.  Additionally, a decline in primary care and hospital service availability, workforce shortages exacerbated by the pandemic, great distances between health care facilities, and low insurance reimbursement for transport and emergency treatment have placed additional strain on rural EMS agencies. 

“You have to understand if you don't live in a rural area, that some of these ambulance services are really the difference between life and death.  They are the first responders.  In fact, they are the only responders,” Durbin said.  “They come to scenes across small-town America and provide the kind of medical services to keep people alive for those precious minutes on the way to a hospital.  The idea of giving them the best and the most modern equipment makes all the difference in the world.”

To extend funding for the SIREN Act grants, Durbin introduced the bipartisan SIREN Reauthorization Act with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) to continue supporting EMS agencies in training and recruiting staff, conducting certification courses, and purchasing equipment. 

Durbin then spoke about his meeting this morning with the Kennedy’s and other EMS professionals from Illinois.  In their meeting, they discussed how SIREN Act grants have helped the Nauvoo volunteer EMS agency support services throughout Hancock County.

“Just a few minutes ago, Mark and Mavis Kennedy of Nauvoo, Illinois, were in my office.  They're in uniform and they’re very proud of the work they do in Hancock County.  Because of the assistance that we provided to them in one of their [SIREN Act grant] applications, they've been able to extend their emergency medical services to virtually all the towns in Hancock County,” Durbin said. “What it means is for their ambulance service, instead of 140 calls a year, they're now receiving 361, virtually a call every single day for services.  And they have the equipment and the personnel well-trained by the same SIREN Act to respond and save lives as they're transporting people that live in that county to nearby hospitals.”

Durbin concluded his speech by calling on his colleagues to support the SIREN Reauthorization Act to support rural communities and ensure that everyone has access to trained medical professionals in an emergency.

“If it's someone you love in your family who is in desperate medical need, if it's your child or your grandchild or your parents and you have that one phone call to make, you want that ambulance there as quickly as possible and the people on board as well trained as possible. The SIREN Act does that,” Durbin said.

“It just proves that when people are willing to sacrifice, volunteer, and help in local communities, and we stand by them and give them a helping hand, it is the difference between life and death.  So I hope all my colleagues will join us in this effort to reauthorize the SIREN Act as part of our commitment to increase health care personnel and their qualifications across the United States,” Durbin concluded.

A photo of today’s meeting with EMS personnel are available here

Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.