Preparing local rescue workers for terrorist attacks urged
Local rescue workers must be given military training and high-tech equipment to respond to chemical and biological attacks, the House National Security Subcommittee on Military Research and Development panel was told in February. Among those testifying before the panel was Fire Chief Gary Marrs of Oklahoma City. Although it has been nearly two years since a bomb destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, Marrs said, “We`re not any more prepared than we were then.” Marrs added: “This new equipment and technology, it`s not going to do any good until it hits the streets …. We need it yesterday.”
The antiterrorism legislation signed into law last year provided $1 billion to local law enforcement agencies but not fire and emergency response units. The act also required the U.S. government to train local authorities in how to respond to terrorism.
The subcommittee`s Chairman, Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA), said: “The first responder is not always going to be the Marines. We`ve got to take the technology that is in the military and put it in every city in America.” He would like to see the Pentagon`s most modern equipment, detection devices, and protective equipment in the hands of firefighters and emergency medical technicians who are the first called to accident scenes. Also, he wants them trained to use them, perhaps at a national center.
Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, said, “Boosting the ability of state and local officials to handle natural disasters and terrorism attacks is a matter of domestic security. We need to develop dual-use technology to respond not only to military threats but to domestic ones.”
Allen Holmes, an assistant defense secretary, reported that federal antiterrorism training of local emergency workers began in March in Denver and would be expanded to 26 of the largest U.S. cities within the next two years. The five-year goal is to train responders in more than 200 cities.
Local authorities, however, must pay for any high-tech equipment they want to keep, the cost of which would be high for fire and emergency response units. “The local fire department, which is usually a bunch of volunteers, can`t afford this,” Weldon said. “They`re out there raising money by holding chicken dinners.”
According to Sylin Bynoe, legislative director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute, Weldon is planning to introduce a bill that will increase funding for first responder training and other areas of concern to the fire service. Also, the CFSI has scheduled a Military Technology Briefing in conjunction with its Ninth Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner (after press time), which will be hosted by Weldon, at which the respective branches of the military will participate in an open forum during which military technology that has a fire service application will be discussed.
Based on Associated Press report by Laura Myers, Feb. 28, 1997, and an interview with Sylin Bynoe, legislative director of the CFSI, March 27, 1997,