Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act

Feb 15, 2011
Floor Speech

 

 

Mr. PASCRELL. Mr. Chairman, as a former mayor, I have always believed that our Nation's first responders constitute both our first and our last line of defense for the American people. This continuing resolution before us today fails our first responders. Regrettably, we are treating these public safety officers as being non-security, discretionary spending and have subjected them to drastic cuts.

   Real homeland security starts on our streets. We all remember on 9/11 when we were attacked on our own soil. It was our brave cops and firefighters who ran into the burning buildings. The Federal Government was not there. To say that funding our cops and firefighters is not national security spending is ludicrous. Our brave local police officers and firefighters who protect our streets day and night are the very essence of our national security.

   Earlier in the process we debated the COPS Program. An amendment tonight restores critical funding for its counterpart, the FIRE Act and the SAFER Grant programs. The continuing resolution significantly reduces funding for the FIRE Act and eliminates all funding for SAFER grants, over $510 million in cuts in total. This would absolutely be devastating for our public safety professionals who rely on this funding for the equipment and personnel they need to protect our communities.

   The FIRE and SAFER grants help local fire departments equip, train and maintain their personnel, preparing them to respond to all forms of an emergency. And things changed, didn't they, after 9/11? An independent evaluation of the FIRE program published by the U.S. Fire Administration concluded that it was highly effective in improving the readiness and capabilities of firefighters across the Nation.

   I may add, Mr. Chairman, that the FIRE programs and the COPS programs are among the highest efficiency and most effective programs run by the Federal Government. The money goes directly to the communities, so States can't skim off the top. They are effective and they are competitive, and no one has challenged that in 10 years.

   SAFER has been critical to many local departments who, as a result of recent economic downturns, have been forced to cut personnel and services.

   What effect would cuts to these programs have? Let's go to the real world and not the video.

   Bethesda Volunteer Fire Department in Coleman, Alabama, they used the FIRE grant to purchase personnel protective equipment which now allows them to enter a burning structure to search for victims and to extinguish the fires. Previously, the department did not have the proper equipment to do this. Today they have greatly reduced the amount of total-loss structures in their region.

   North County Fire Protection District in Holbrooke, California, they were able to purchase emergency backup power generators. During the 2007 San Diego firestorms, power failed throughout the community early on the first day and was not completely restored in the community for 2 weeks. The emergency power generators they purchased with their FIRE grant allowed them to keep all of the facilities fully functional.

   Before the Belle Chasse Volunteer Fire Department in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, received a SAFER grant in 2008, the department could not comply with the National Fire Protection Association standards. There is such a thing. Before we cut something, we should know what the alternatives are. Its initial alarm assignment capability was only 20 percent in that time. That insufficient level of service put the communities and the volunteer firefighters at considerable risk for injury or even the loss of life.

   Thanks to a SAFER grant, the department was able to hire 45 firefighters, increase the rate of compliance, and it is now estimated that the compliance is 90 percent and they have increased their initial alarm dispatch with three more engine companies.

   Together, FIRE and SAFER grants have provided over $7 billion in firefighter jobs, equipment and training for local fire departments. It is serious business. We are talking life and limb, and we are talking about property here. To me, cutting these critical programs is wrong, especially when local fire department budgets are already strained. We are facing it in all of our districts. You know that.

   My amendment restores the funding for FIRE and SAFER to their fiscal 2010 amounts: $390 million for FIRE, $420 million for SAFER. Because of the rule, we are forced to reluctantly take funding from DHS Science and Technology. If this amendment passes, I hope we can restore some of the funding during conference.

   I hope that both sides will come together on this. It has bipartisan support. We need to protect our firefighters.

 

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