Statement of Senator James M. Jeffords
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Hearing on Proposed First Responder Initiative
March 12, 2002
Good Afternoon. I want to welcome everyone in attendance this afternoon. I would especially like to welcome Director Allbaugh and the other witnesses, including Chief Mike O'Neil of the South Burlington, Vermont, Fire Department. We are here today to discuss the President's new First Responder Initiative.
Yesterday this nation commemorated an unfortunate milestone - six months since the tragic attack of September 11th. Since that time, much has been said and written about the terrible events of that day.
I vividly remember my own visits to the Pentagon and the World Trade Center just days after the attack. I remember the sights, the sounds, the smells, but most of all, I remember the tireless efforts of the first responders risking their lives in an heroic attempt to save others.
But these men and women were heroes long before September 11th. These men and women were heroes the day they became firefighters and police officers. As a former volunteer firefighter in my small Vermont community, I feel a great sense of pride when I listen to the stories of the brave men and women - the firefighters, police officers, and other emergency personnel - who on a daily basis answer the call to serve.
Since September 11th I have thought every day about the causes of this horrible tragedy and what we as a nation can do to better prepare ourselves against future terrorist acts. Time is a great healer, and the passage of time has allowed this nation to begin to feel normal again. For me, this healing process has brought a renewed commitment to make sure that this nation is prepared for and can respond effectively to any future acts of terrorism. However, we cannot allow the passage of time to dull our recollections of what we saw and felt in the days after September 11th.
The Federal government, under the careful orchestration of FEMA, mobilized like never before to respond to September 11th. But as Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving."
I believe the First Responder Initiative is an important step in the right direction - moving us toward a strong national preparedness network, a network composed of well-prepared, well-trained, well-equipped first responders. But as we move away from September 11th, we must not forget the continuing need.
Currently in the United States there are over one million firefighters, over 600,000 law enforcement officers, and 155,000 trained EMTs. Within this community, response capability varies widely, and many areas have little or no response capability. This initiative aims at correcting those deficiencies by helping states prepare for and respond to terrorist attacks. But the Federal government and the states must be partners in this process.
I hope, as all Americans hope, that we never have to respond to another act of terrorism, but we live in a world where we must be prepared. I call on FEMA and the Office of Homeland Security to carefully craft this initiative.
States and the Federal government must work together to ensure that our people on the front lines, our first responders, receive all they need to answer the call.
I look forward today to hearing the testimony of our witnesses.