WASHINGON, DC - The General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), Harold Schaitberger, today asked President Bush to restore funding for multiple programs for emergency responders that were cut or eliminated in the FY 2005 Federal Budget.
"With the severe cuts made by the Administration to great programs that help make our country safer, we ask the President to please explain to the American people why he is leaving them more vulnerable to incidents ranging from the threats of terrorism to standard emergencies," said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters. "The fact remains that firefighters around the U.S. often lack the training, equipment and staffing to adequately respond to calls to save lives and property."
In the President's budget, funding for the FIRE Act, the popular grant program that helps fire departments fund equipment needs, was cut by 50%. The proposal reduced the appropriation from $750 million to $500 million. The Administration also designated many useful Fire Act programs for elimination in its request, including initiatives for EMS, wellness/fitness, fire code enforcement, station renovation, and education.
In addition, state and local programs for homeland security purposes were reduced $200 million, from $3.3 to $3.1 billion. Such cuts nearly negate the suggested increase in first responder funding of "high threat urban areas," which was included in the budget proposal.
The Administration also recommended to eliminate planned funding of the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) Act, the first- ever Federal program to fund firefighters, which was signed into law by the President in November.
The $7.6 billion program would support the hiring of up to 75,000 firefighters over the next 7 years to help hundreds of communities meet national standards for firefighter staffing. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 2/3rds of America's fire departments are under-staffed, leading to common vulnerabilities to their varied homeland security and standard emergency response needs.
With such significant concerns over the lack of White House support of America's over-stretched first responders, the International Association of Fire Fighters have endorsed Senator John Kerry for President. With their announcement on September 24, 2003, the IAFF was the first AFL-CIO union to endorse a candidate other than Richard Gephardt and the only major union to support Kerry's campaign until the New Hampshire Primary.
Senator Kerry was selected by the IAFF after an extensive polling process of its members and based on his record as the strongest pro-union candidate in the race with the greatest commitment to national and homeland security issues. Kerry's strong support of firefighters has included votes in favor of the SAFER and FIRE Acts, as well as his campaign pledge to put 100,000 more firefighters on the streets as president.