Firefighters Win Round One of Budget Battle

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Senate last week approved a spending bill that includes unprecedented sums for the American fire service. A joint Senate-House conference committee is now developing a final version, which could be radically different from the Senate bill.

As part of an omnibus bill funding government programs through Oct. 1, 2003, the Senate voted to increase funding for the FIRE Act to $900 million, up from $360 million last year. The legislation also includes more than $400 million in new fire service programs, money for health screening for New York City fire fighters, and significant increases in the federal program that prepares fire fighters to respond to terrorist incidents involving weapons of mass destruction.

The bill now moves to a House-Senate conference committee where the final version of the legislation will be written. Whether the fire service funding will survive in conference is unclear, largely because the position of the House members is not known.

Traditionally, conference committees work out differences in legislation that has been approved in each chamber, but because the House was unable to pass its version of the spending bill, the House representatives on the conference committee will have free rein to accept or reject spending items as they see fit.

In addition to the $900 million for the FIRE Act, the legislation that passed the Senate includes $90 million to study the health effects on workers who were on the scene following the attacks on the World Trade Center, with $25 million of that money specifically earmarked for monitoring the health of fire fighters.

The legislation also contains $114 million for interoperable radio communications, $75 million for USAR teams, $75 million for emergency response planning, $60 million for general emergency responder training, and nearly $100 million for specialized WMD training and equipment.

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