Legislation approved by the U.S. House of Representatives late Thursday night included a bipartisan measure sponsored by Congressman Gerry Connolly to preserve critical funding for the nation's elite Urban Search & Rescue (USAR) teams, including the world-renowned Virginia Task Force 1 team based at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.
The amendment offered by Congressmen Connolly (D-VA) and Michael Grimm (R-NY) restored $7.7 million in funding for the nation's 28 USAR teams. Two of the teams are located in Virginia -- Fairfax County and Virginia Beach -- and a third team is located in Montgomery County, Maryland. The Connolly-Grimm amendment restored funding for USAR to the level contained in the comparable Senate bill. The increased appropriation for the USAR teams was offset by a cut of $7.7 million from DHS administrative funding to make it deficit neutral.
"When people are trapped in the unstable rubble of a collapsed building, the window of survivability can be measured in hours," Connolly said. "The elite firefighters, emergency medical personnel, and other experts who are part of these teams are not just first responders. For people awaiting rescue in a cave-in or earthquake, the USAR teams are their last hope."
Connolly has long been an advocate of the USAR teams. As Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, he had a close association with Virginia Task Force 1 and he continues to support their important mission. "Along with their heroic efforts on the domestic front, they have carried the banner for America's diplomatic efforts in response to disasters, natural and manmade, across the globe," he said.
"These brave men and women who serve on the USAR teams have risked their own lives to save lives in Northern Virginia, across the nation, and throughout the world following incidents such as bombings, earthquakes, and other disasters. They were among the first to respond to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, and Hurricane Katrina. They have served our nation in far-flung locations including Kenya, Haiti, Japan, Armenia, the Philippines, Italy, Turkey, Taiwan, Mozambique, Pakistan, Bolivia, Peru, Honduras, Burma, China, Panama, and Chile," Connolly said.
"Our amendment restored half of the funding cut from the USAR budget without adding to the federal deficit to make sure that these elite teams can continue to conduct their missions safely and effectively," Connolly said.