Washington, D.C. – The General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Harold Schaitberger issued the following statement in support of an amendment being offered by Senator Paul S. Sarbanes (D-MD) and Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) to increase funding for fire fighter and first responder programs that President Bush’s 2005 budget seeks to cut.
“When Congress passed the bi-partisan FIRE Act in 2000, a grant program that helps fund equipment needs, fire fighters and first responders in this country believed we were on our way to having the funding necessary to provide the protection our communities deserve in an emergency.
“Then President Bush failed to fund the FIRE Act in his first two budgets. But Congress stepped up, went against the administration, and funded the FIRE Act to the tune of more than one billion dollars over the past three years, giving fire fighters and first responders in communities across America the apparatus, training, protective gear, safety and health initiatives, and communications equipment they badly needed.
“Now, while the president once again is looking to shortchange the FIRE Act, Senators Sarbanes and Daschle are stepping up to ensure that the needs of first responders and our communities are met.
“Last year, Congress passed the SAFER Act to put 75,000 new fire fighters in communities. Again, fire fighters and first responders celebrated that milestone. Help was finally on the way to fix the problem of too few staff to respond safely and effectively to calls. But President Bush once again decided to not fund this key bill to protect our communities even while he made promises to the American People to provide for our Homeland Security.
“Bush’s actions have resulted in fire stations closing. Two-thirds of America’s fire departments remain under-staffed because Bush refuses to fund the SAFER Act. President Bush’s budget proposes to cut Homeland Security Department funding for first responders by $700 million for next year and cuts funding for the FIRE Act. And, state and local programs for homeland security purposes were reduced by $200 million.
“Don’t let the president break his promises to the American People. Fire fighters, first responders and the citizens need your help. Please put politics aside and fully fund the FIRE Act and fund the SAFER Act.”