Message from Secretary Tom Ridge to Our Nation's Fire Service

March 7, 2003

To the Men and Women of America's Fire Service,

Recent events have again reminded all Americans of the ever-present threats to the safety of our lives, our families and our communities. In our country, far too many citizens and firefighters are losing their lives or are being injured by fire, each year. There is one thing of which we never need to be reminded of. When citizens of this nation need fire fighting, rescue and emergency medical services, it is the men and women of the America's fire service that are the first called, the first to respond and the first to assist their fellow Americans facing life threatening emergencies.

Recently, President Bush signed into law the 2003 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program. This legislation supports American firefighters responding to all threats and emergencies facing our communities. The United States Congress has appropriated $750 million dollars for the 2003 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, more than doubling the 2002 funding. President Bush's signature secures, a more than 600 percent increase in the funding for the fire service since the program began in 2001.

These are very challenging times for firefighters and all Americans. One of the most significant challenges is the threat of terrorism within our borders. America's firefighters will be among the first to respond to an act of terrorism. With this in mind I encourage you to evaluate your needs for the response to terrorism as you formulate your grant requests. The 2003 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program can effectively be viewed as the foundation for more advanced terrorism preparedness funding, that the President and I are working to distribute to you.

In the past, when Americans needed emergency medical services, it was the firefighters who accepted this responsibility. When Americans needed hazardous materials response, again the fire service developed the expertise. Throughout our recent history, wherever Americans needed automobile extrication, technical rescue, water rescue, wildland firefighting, or urban search and rescue it has been the American fire service to accept these challenges. Our nation now faces a terrorism threat and Americans need the fire service to be able to respond to these emergencies. If history is our guide, the men and women of the fire service will accept this responsibility, just as they have before.

Together, we must work to make all firefighters the best trained; the best equipped and be provided with the best incident management resources possible. The terrorism threat we face is real, and as we move quickly to ensure this Nation's safety and preparedness, having the most effective firefighters in every community will be critical to America's homeland security.


Secretary, Tom Ridge
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C.