Fire Service Waits For Congress To Help Prepare For Terrorism

This first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is a proper time to look back on what went wrong, what went right and how much progress has been made since Sept. 11, 2001. For the fire-rescue service, the vital...


This first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is a proper time to look back on what went wrong, what went right and how much progress has been made since Sept. 11, 2001. For the fire-rescue service, the vital question is whether local fire departments are...


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The full picture isn't clear, but as near as I can determine, no emergency federal aid has reached any fire department other than New York City, which had to replace apparatus and equipment destroyed at the World Trade Center. Thus far, all of the federal emergency funds going to other regions are being used to aid a wide range of local agencies, including hospitals and health facilities, public transportation systems and, of course, the police. But there has been nothing for firefighters and the only aid to fire departments has come from the FIRE Act. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will have distributed all of the $360 million in that program by the end of the year and it goes directly to the fire departments without having to pass through the state government bureaucracies. This is why the fire organizations are fighting to preserve the FIRE Act as a separate program and have it fully funded at the $900 million Congress authorized for the next two fiscal years.

There has been little or no help from state and local governments, which are reeling from the full impact of the nation's economic disaster. Tax revenues have taken a steep decline and everyone is facing huge budget deficits, thanks in part to the irresponsible tax cuts elected officials handed out to curry favor with the voters when times were good. Despite the lessons of Sept. 11, too many still see their fire department as a place to hold the line on spending, or worse yet, order more budget cuts.

Despite all of these problems and the lack of funding, many fire departments have managed to make some progress by reviewing and strengthening their incident command, mutual aid and mass-casualty disaster plans. There also has been more focus on additional training that is directly related to terrorism, especially the response to hazardous materials incidents. But most have gone as far as they can go on their own and the blunt truth is that the federal aid that was promised after Sept. 11 should have arrived months ago.


Hal Bruno, a Firehouse® contributing editor, retired as 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.