News Releases

Washington Fire Fighters Denounce Administration’s Plan to Cut Grant Funding for Fire Departments

Feb 20 2003

President also rejected $2.5 billion for homeland security last year

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- In a letter to Sen. Patty Murray, the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters denounced the Bush Administration's 2004 budget for cutting the grant program that helps fire departments with training, equipment and safety programs. The letter also criticized the President for rejecting homeland security funding last year that would have provided equipment for local fire departments.

"The Administration's proposed funding for the FY2004 FIRE Act (grants that go directly to our fire departments for training, equipment and safety programs) is actually a 33 percent cut from the FY2003 funding that was just approved by Congress," wrote WSCFF President, Kelly Fox.

"You understand, Senator Murray, but we need the Bush Administration to understand and other members of Congress to understand that Homeland Security is Hometown Security," Fox continued.

The Washington State Council of Fire Fighters represents 6,500 Fire Fighters throughout the state.

The text of the letter follows:

February 20, 2003

Senator Patty Murray 173 Russell Senate Office Bldg. Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Murray:

For more than a year, Congress has debated with little movement on how best to provide funding for our nation's domestic defenders, fire fighters and paramedics. You have been a leader in working to secure federal funding for local fire departments. Your leadership is especially important given that our profession faces daunting new challenges, and local governments can no longer fund the challenges alone.

Let me assure you, we are prepared to do whatever is necessary to protect the citizens of this state - even if it means putting ourselves in harm's way. Although the job we need to perform in this war on terrorism is familiar, the magnitude of the challenge before us is unprecedented - as the enemy now comes to our cities and towns. Whether it is a terrorist attack in Washington State or any other disaster or incident that threatens lives and property, our firefighters and paramedics will give 110 percent as they always have and will continue to do in the future.

Washington's domestic warriors - firefighters, police officers, and paramedics - need the resources to do their jobs in the event of a terrorist attack. Nearly every fire department in our state lacks the specialized training, the appropriate equipment and, in many cases, the proper level of firefighter staffing needed to effectively respond to the aftermath of a terrorist attack involving chemical, biological, radioactive, or nuclear agents. The federal government has failed to fulfill its role in providing the funding for resources needed by local governments to meet these objectives. No one doubts that the need is great. I think everyone agrees that it is a matter of when, not if, we will face that next attack - and it will be our local first responders on the front lines, as demonstrated on September 11, 2001.

Presently, within Washington State, we have anticipated shortcomings and are seeking passage of House Bill 1517. This legislation would require all fire departments in our state to adhere to national standards for deployment delivery and a host of operational and level of service issues. Furthermore, it requires an annual assessment of the organization in regard to service delivered and if said services are being deployed in a manner meeting nationally recognized standards.

Last August, Congress provided President Bush $2.5 billion in emergency homeland security funding, for him to release to local police and fire departments if he thought it was needed. Regrettably, he rejected that funding, and vowed, "we'll spend none of it." President Bush himself held back hundreds of millions of dollars for equipment, training and other needs for our first responders.

Fifteen months ago, we were told that $3.5 billion was being earmarked for first responders in the Bush administration's FY 2003 budget. But to date that money is nowhere to be found. Firefighters in Washington and across our nation have received plenty of praise and accolades since 9/11; we have been invited to many photo ops. But our cities and towns, our counties, our fire districts, and their fire departments are still waiting for that funding. In fact, our state has yet to see a dime of money that was promised by the Bush administration to help our firefighters and paramedics.

We have serious concerns about the $3.5 billion proposed for first responders in the administration's FY 2004 budget. The administration's latest budget is lacking in detail, and we fear much of the funding is nothing more than a reshuffling of cards in the deck. In fact, the Bush administration's proposed funding for the FY 2004 FIRE Act (grants that go directly to our fire departments for training, equipment, and safety programs) is actually a 33 percent cut from the FY 2003 funding that was just approved by Congress two weeks ago.

As the majority of fire departments in our state cope with under staffing, so do nearly two-thirds of the nation's fire departments. Instead of providing federal funds to help local government hire firefighters, it eliminates a similar program that helps communities hire more police officers. Meanwhile, many firefighters are reservists and guardsmen who are already on the ground in Afghanistan and the Middle East or are waiting to be called up. Their absence will put even further strain on an already under-staffed fire service.

You understand, Senator Murray, but we need the Bush administration to understand and other members of Congress to understand that Homeland Security is Hometown Security. We wouldn't send our military into war without the proper equipment, the proper training, and the necessary number of soldiers to do their job. But that is exactly what our membership and the nation's first responders are being asked to do in the war on terrorism here at home.

So what is needed by our nation's fire service? Here are some conservative examples of what is needed as provided by the International Association of Fire Fighters: · $65 million to train every professional firefighter to first responder level for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) response. · $7 billion to add 75,000 new firefighters and bring staffing levels at fire departments into compliance with international standards. · $60 million to provide firefighters with protective clothing that provides CBRN protection. · $42 million to upgrade or replace self-contained breathing apparatus to meet federal standards for protecting firefighters from CBRN exposures. · $97 million to provide CBRN detection equipment to fire departments. · $5 to $10 million to conduct research into developing firefighter protective clothing and equipment that would be functional in all environments, ranging from structural fires to CBRN incidents, similar to the U.S. Army's Objective Force Warrior Program.

We need your help! Senator Murray, we request you to roll up your sleeves and fight for federal funding to appropriate money for much-needed training, equipment, and staffing to help Washington State's first responders. Moreover, the firefighters, paramedics, and police officers in every community of this great nation are counting on federal assistance so we can do what we do best; protect the citizens when catastrophic incidents strike.

Unfortunately, regardless of federal assistance, demands for staffing, training and equipment intensify. Just days after the September 11 attacks, FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh highlighted the need for additional resources. Firefighters, he said, "put their lives on the line everyday and yet they are always the first in line for budget cuts and the last in line for recognition. That's got to stop." The need for additional firefighters, on-going training, and equipment is tremendous and can no longer be born solely by local government.

We understand that Congress may soon consider a supplemental appropriation bill to fund military operations and other emergency needs. I ask you to work to ensure that any supplemental appropriation passed by Congress also includes funding to address the needs of America's domestic defenders.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the issues currently facing our nations domestic defenders. As I said earlier, we are prepared to protect the citizens of our state; we call for assistance from Congress to provide the needed funding to enable us to respond appropriately to incidents caused by the war on terrorism.

If you should have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you.


Kelly L. Fox President