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The emergency spending bill was primarily intended to appropriate more money for big-ticket items like disaster relief, the military mission in Kosovo and funds to fight the drug war in Latin America. But it came out of the House dripping with pork and the Senate killed some of the measures it didn't like - including the $100 million in fire grants - then reached into its own pork barrel to provide "emergency" funding for pet projects favored by its most powerful members. Unfortunately, aid to the nation's fire departments is not on their most-favored list; the firefighters didn't get a penny.
However, in another maneuver last month, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) attached a revised version of the FIRE Act as an amendment to the Department of Defense appropriations bill. It calls for $3.1 billion to be spread out over a period of six years - which is one more year and almost $2 billion less than the legislation proposed by Rep. William Pascrell (D-NJ) in the original FIRE Act.
The Dodd amendment also requires that 10% of the funds be earmarked for fire prevention activities conducted by community organizations that focus on preventing injuries to children. It means that $300 million in fire money would go to groups like the SAFE KIDS campaign - which has been a pet project of Dodd and Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH), the only Republican to co-sponsor the amendment.
The Senate's bill now goes to a conference committee, where it has to be reconciled with the Defense appropriations bill previously passed by the House, which did not contain any money to help local fire departments. Its chances there are very uncertain.
But one thing is certain: the fire-rescue service won't have any trouble coming up with the names of firefighters who deserve to be considered for the Presidential Medal of Valor.
Hal Bruno, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a retired political director for ABC News in Washington and served almost 40 years as a volunteer firefighter. He is a director of the Chevy Chase, MD, Fire Department and chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.