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The reaction among the fire organizations was one of anger and bitter frustration. Congress wouldn't dare to refuse to hold a hearing on legislation that was important to the police and many think the fire service should keep fighting, even though it's a lost cause.
"We want a hearing and an up-or-down vote on the Pascrell bill...and let those who defeat us get the blame," says one congressional lobbyist who has worked hard to gain support for the FIRE Act. He argues that $100 million is "crumbs" in comparison to the $1 billion in the FIRE Act and the $7 billion given to the police every year.
But another who has lobbied for the bill thinks the offer may be worth considering. He points out: "It's a lot more than we ever got in the past and it could be a start, a stepping stone to getting more in the future...and the Pascrell bill made it possible." He adds that it's not uncommon for major spending legislation to start out small and increase by increments over a period of years.
The debate is underway and, at this point, we don't know how it will end. But here's the dilemma facing the fire-rescue service: do you go down in flames with the original FIRE Act and get nothing, or do you take whatever you can get now and try for more in the future?
One thing does seem clear. Unfortunately, the so-called "sleeping giant" of fire service political power didn't make the slightest impression on the Republicans who killed the FIRE Act. They know the voters don't care about fire problems and it's unrealistic to think this can be used as an effective issue against them in the 2000 congressional elections. A few of them may be vulnerable, but if you really want to punish someone in the next election, go after those irresponsible, double-crossing local officials who ruthlessly slashed fire department budgets and created this mess in the first place.
The prime targets of the fire service's wrath should be mayors and county executives, city and county council members. They're the real villains in this sad story.