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Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CONNOLLY of Virginia. I want to thank the distinguished chairman and the ranking member and my colleague Mr. Grimm from New York for this thoughtful amendment and for accepting it.

Fairfax County, which I represent, has one of the outstanding US&R teams in the world. As my colleague from New York indicated, they have served both here in the United States in many, many manmade and natural tragedies, as well as around the world in saving lives. This is a great partnership between local governments and the Federal Government, and it's one that we desperately need to be enhanced.

So I very much thank the majority and the minority leaders for accepting this thoughtful amendment. I am proud to join with my colleague, Mr. Grimm, in cosponsoring this amendment as an original cosponsor, and I am delighted it's going to be adopted.

I am pleased to join my colleague, Congressman GRIMM, in sponsoring this amendment to restore funding for our nation's elite Urban Search and Rescue, USAR, Teams. Our simple common sense amendment would restore about half of the reduction proposed by the Committee, matching the level of the Senate markup, and it has the support of the International Association of Fire Fighters and the National Association of Police Organizations.

When earthquake survivors are trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building, the window of survivability is measured in hours. Without highly-trained responders, rescue attempts can imperil victims and rescuers alike. Thankfully, we have made strategic investments in specialized USAR teams. These elite firefighters and emergency medical technicians are not just first responders. For people awaiting rescue, they are the last hope.

Prior to coming to Congress, I served 14 year on the Fairfax County, Virginia, Board of Supervisors, and for 9 of those years, I shared my office with a fire station. I saw daily the selfless dedication of the men and women who put their lives at risk every day in service to others.

Fairfax County is home to one of nation's outstanding USAR teams. In partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the local county government, the Fairfax team serves U.S. interests at home and abroad. It is comprised of highly-skilled career and volunteer fire and rescue personnel, whose daily duties are to serve the Fairfax community by responding to local fire and medical emergencies.

When called into service by DHS, the Fairfax team, designated as Virginia Task Force One, is mobilized for quick response to domestic disasters, natural or manmade, with special expertise in collapsed building rescue. Our team was deployed to Oklahoma City in the wake of the 1995 bombing, and it was among the first on the scene at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. It also was dispatched to Mississippi and Louisiana in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The team has answered the call for help in multiple states, including California, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Kansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. In addition, the Fairfax Team deployed and was on call during the Presidential Inauguration in 2009, the Republican National Convention in Minnesota in 2008, the Democratic National Convention in Massachusetts in 2004, and the Olympic Games in Utah in 2002 and Georgia in 1996.

Fairfax and other USAR teams also have answered the call to respond to disasters abroad under the direction of USAID. In the past 2 years alone, the Fairfax Team, designated as USAR Team One, has deployed to offer rescue and recovery assistance following the devastating earthquake in Haiti and Japan. In 1998, the Team deployed to Kenya in response to the bombings at the U.S. embassy. Throughout its more than 20 years of operation, USAR Team One has carried the banner for America's diplomatic efforts in response to disasters in Armenia, the Philippines, Italy, Turkey, Taiwan, Mozambique, the Czech Republic, Iran, Morocco, Pakistan, Bolivia, Peru, Honduras, Burma, China, Panama, and Chile.

When disaster strikes--whether natural or manmade, domestically or internationally--Fairfax and the other select USAR teams have rushed to the scene saving countless lives and property. Their heroic efforts have shown this to be a wise investment and one that ought to be maintained.

I urge my colleague to support the Grimm-Connolly amendment to ensure that this successful partnership with our local partners and first responders continues, so that when the next alarm is called, we can take comfort in knowing they are on the job.


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