Firefighters Laud House Homeland Security Bill


The president of the International Association of
Firefighters (IAFF) called the near-unanimous passage of
the budget for the new Department of Homeland Security by
the House of Representatives “a step in the right
direction, but just a first step.”

The $29.4 billion appropriated includes $4.4 billion for
local firefighters, law enforcement and other emergency
responders who are on the frontlines of the nation’s
domestic war on terrorism. Also adopted was an amendment
sponsored by Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) to increase spending
on the FIRE Act grant program for local fire departments
from $500 million to $750 million for FY 2004.

“While we applaud the much needed infusion of homeland
security funds for firefighters, we still have concerns
that it is not enough, and much of it will be siphoned off
before it gets to the local level,” said Harold
Schaitberger, general president of the IAFF. “Two-thirds of
fire departments are understaffed, making it difficult to
handle fire suppression and medical calls, much less deal
with terrorist threats.”

Staffing is the most critical need of the fire service,
both to meet terrorism and standard emergency responds
needs. The IAFF supports federal legislation that
authorizes hiring additional firefighters to meet these
demands. The situation is exasperated by the faltering
economy, which is forcing many cities to make cuts in their
fire departments, even as the demand for emergency services

Schaitberger also emphasized the concern, echoed by the
nation’s mayors, that more of the homeland security money
needs to be sent directly to local governments to provide
direct assistance to firefighters and police. The IAFF is
concerned that too much of the funds will be used at state
and regional levels to bolster bureaucracies at the expense
of line firefighters.

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