New York, NY - General President Harold Schaitberger, of the International Association of Fire Fighters, AFL-CIO/CLC, issued the following statement concerning the public hearing of the 9-11 Commission and response:
"The 9-11 Commission hears testimony this week from city administrators about what happened that fateful day, and what might happen if another attack is brought upon the citizens of New York City.
"Since no fire fighters were asked to speak to the Commission in its public hearings, all the people of the city of New York will hear is the opinion of politicians, and people who work for politicians, giving politically correct answers. A perfect example is the new Citywide Incident Management System (CIMS), which effectively codifies the same unwritten system that resulted in the massive communication failures during the 9-11 response. It's a formula for disaster that city administrators will likely praise.
"It isn't enough that the new system ensures that the old problems remain. The new system also creates new problems. For instance, all emergency responders know that tactical decisions related to life safety are paramount -- every second matters. Under the new plan, these decisions are spread across multiple agencies, which by definition means they are more time consuming, and that is a recipe for escalating casualties and confusion.
"The people of New York deserve straight talk on the issue of whether the city is prepared to respond to the next attack any better than the last. From the perspective of fire fighters and other first responders, here's what we know: Budget hawks in New York have advocated for the closure of firehouses and a reduction in fire fighters, despite the continued threat of another attack. As a result, there are fewer station houses, fewer response vehicles, and fewer fire fighters (who collectively have fewer years of experience) in New York City than there were on September 10, 2001.
"This isn't scare-mongering. This is a simple statement of the facts. Homeland defense and domestic preparedness have received a lot of lip service but not the funding needed to truly prepare the first responders. And New Yorkers are not alone in the lack of preparedness. It's a nationwide problem.
"Nationally, President Bush's budget for 2005 reduces funding for first responders by $800 million. He is proposing to cut the FIRE Act grant program by $250 million, meaning there is less money available to communities to purchase much needed equipment and to train fire fighters. And President Bush is refusing to fund the SAFER Act, which would provide money to communities to hire 75,000 new fire fighters nation-wide, to solve the short-staffing problem that afflicts two-thirds of the country's fire departments.
"Ask New York fire fighters today if they need more equipment, training and additional fire fighters to make their jobs safe and make them effective in responding to whatever emergency call comes in that day, and they'll all tell you they need more. Studies by congressional committees and independent agencies verify these personal feelings.
"New York City, more than any place in America, understands the selflessness of fire fighters. Three hundred and forty three FDNY professionals died on 9-11 because they were doing what they could, with the equipment they had when the attacks hit.
"Make no mistake, fire fighters will show up and fight to protect the citizens and our communities in the next round with terrorists on our homeland. But because of some short-sighted decisions on the part of key elected officials, it could take us longer to get there, there won't be as many responders, and they might not have the proper equipment or training needed to respond to the kinds of chemical, biological, nuclear or other weapon of mass destruction attacks like we experienced on 9-11.
"Since, tragically, we now know what the terrorists are capable of, the first priority of our government should be to ensure that the first responders have a sound plan and every resource possible at their disposal to save lives and prevent further destruction. The citizens of New York, and indeed our entire country, deserve at least that much. And if they know the facts, they will demand no less."