On behalf of the 260,000 men and women of the International Association of Fire Fighters we offer our sincere thanks and gratitude to the citizens across America for the support and generosity they have shown to our fire fighters, not only in New York, but throughout the United States and Canada over the last two years.
As people gather across America today on this second anniversary of the September 11 attacks to honor the loss of more than 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in rural Pennsylvania, the tragic loss suffered by our union brothers in New York still looms heavily on our minds and in our hearts.
We will always remember their service, their dedication, and their courage in the face of one of the most horrific moments in our union's history that plunged us into grief and rage. We will never forget the supreme sacrifice made by our New York firefighters or the heroism of the thousands of other firefighters and first responders who risked their lives to save others on that fateful day.
We will remember them just as we will always remember the 100 firefighters across America who give their lives in the line of duty each year. Whether it is New York, or Memphis, or Green Bay, Wisconsin, or Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and everywhere in between, the loss of a single firefighter is a tragedy beyond compare for his or her family, just as it was for each firefighter family and each civilian family in New York on September 11, 2001.
We also remember those who are serving America overseas in the military and America's firefighters offer our support and gratitude to the families of our heroic soldiers who have given their lives in pursuit of freedom.
We must also use this solemn anniversary to remind our elected officials in Washington and in communities across the nation that there is still much to be done to make sure our firefighters and other first responders are properly trained, quipped, and staffed to handle the next terrorist attack on our soil that is, unfortunately, sure to come.
This is so important because in too many cities, the urgent needs of our domestic defenders on the frontline of America's war on terrorism are still not being met. At a time when one would expect our fire and emergency services to be strengthened, two-thirds of the nation's fire departments are staffed below minimum national standards. Some communities are laying off or threatening to lay off firefighters, and in many others, the number of fire fighters have been reduced by attrition.
It is hard to believe, but even in New York City, there are 500 fewer firefighters and six fewer fire stations today than there were two years ago on the morning of September 11. And it is not an isolated case. Cuts by layoffs and attrition have occurred in cities from Springfield, Massachusetts to Minneapolis to Fremont, California and many places in between.
What does that mean in layman's terms? On normal fire and EMS calls, firefighters often lack the personnel to respond adequately to an emergency. That could mean a delay in knocking down a fire or rescuing a person trapped inside a building. It also could mean a lack of backup if a firefighter needs to be rescued. In the end, it means more life and property is inevitably lost.
And if another city faces an attack from weapons of mass destruction, expect these deficiencies to be magnified exponentially.
Unfortunately, the much-touted Federal homeland security money to provide funds for local fire department is getting tangled up in federal, state, and regional bureaucracies and it is not making it to the local level to provide the necessary resources to our nation's frontline domestic defenders.
It is time for our leaders at every level of government to act decisively to protect our homeland along with our efforts to bring down terrorists abroad by making sure the resources get in the hands of our local firefighters and first responders.
I can promise you that firefighters are committed to doing whatever is necessary to protect the lives of American citizens, even if it means putting their own lives at risk. But we need to make sure they have the training, equipment, and staffing to do the job safely and effectively.
We will never forget our fallen heroes who gave their lives on 9-11 and we hope that the nation's elected officials won't forget the heroes that remain behind.
Harold Schaitberger is the General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the union for professional firefighters and paramedics in the United States and Canada that protect 80% of the population. The IAFF raised more than $160 million for the families of the fire fighters killed on September 11, 2001 and continues to fund counseling programs for FDNY firefighters and the families of those firefighters killed at the World Trade Center.