SUPPORTING THOSE WHO PROTECT OUR COMMUNITIES
October 14, 2005
The depth of the nation's pride and gratitude to our first responders can never be over-stated. Long before the September 11th attacks and far into the future, the men and women who selflessly serve our communities as first responders will constantly be called into harms way and, without hesitation, reliably answer that call. This week, the Congress rightly honors a select membership of this group - our nation's fire fighters - and joins with them in raising public awareness during National Fire Prevention Week.
For more than 80 years, the National Fire Protection Association has worked to increase awareness in our communities regarding the dangers of fires and the proper safety precautions we can all take to prevent possible incidents. Their efforts have had measurable success. Over the past twenty years, fire safety education has contributed to nearly a 40 percent decrease in fire-related deaths - from over 6,000 annually in 1970 to only 3,900 in 2003. However, their message alone will not save lives, and thus must be accompanied by our action.
As a member of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, I recognize the invaluable contributions and heroic efforts the men and women of our community fire departments display each day on the job. Thus, as they are unwavering in their commitment to protecting our communities, I remain dedicated to ensuring that they receive the necessary federal resources to fully complete their daily duties safely.
For fiscal year 2005, the Assistance to Fire fighters Grant Program administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was authorized to distribute $715 million in direct assistance to fire departments across the country to improve the effectiveness of fire-fighting operations, fire fighter health and safety programs, and to establish or expand fire prevention programs. Since its inception in 2001, I have supported this program and am pleased that, to date, ninety-two of New Jersey's 2nd Congressional District fire organizations have received federal funding under the program, with the total investment reaching more than $11.1 million.
However, I feel that this level of federal investment in New Jersey fire departments is not nearly enough. As Hurricanes Katrina and Rita again demonstrated, our first responders are the critical front-lines in an emergency situation. New Jersey, in comparison to states such as Wyoming or Arkansas, faces an increased threat of terrorism or occurrence of a natural disaster. In an effort to correct this short-coming, I joined with the entire delegation in pushing for federal funding allocations to be made on a risk-based assessment rather than equally divided between the states. Our goal was to have criteria such as regional population and critical infrastructure be more significantly weighed when allocating funding among the states. I was pleased that the fiscal year 2006 Homeland Security Appropriations bill, recently passed by Congress, included this risk-based assessment provision, ensuring that New Jersey's responders will receive the necessary resources they need to fully protect our communities.
Throughout my time in office, I have had the privilege to meet with countless fire fighters across South Jersey. With each visit, I am unbelievably moved by their stories of life-threatening rescues and fallen colleagues. I am saddened, however, that approximately 100 fire fighters across the country still lose their lives annually in the line of duty and, that on September 11th, 343 fire and rescue personnel gave their lives to save scores of others in the Twin Towers. It is in their memory that we all - as private citizens and elected officials - must do everything we can to minimize the dangers that situations can create.
For more information on Fire Prevention Week, please visit www.firepreventionweek.org.