Weldon Holds Hearing on Anti-Terrorism Training at FDIC, Volunteers Testify
On March 21, the Military Research and Development Subcommittee of the House Committee on National Security held a field hearing in Indianapolis, Indiana at the site of the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC). Chief Larry Curl of the Wayne Township Fire Department in Indiana presented testimony at the hearing on behalf of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs, Volunteer Chief Officers Section (IAFC-VCOS).
Congressman Curt Weldon (PA) called the hearing to review the Federal programs which provide civilian personnel of Federal, State and local agencies with training and expert advice regarding emergency response to the use or threatened uses of a weapon of mass destruction (WMD). Weldon was particularly interested in hearing from the fire service on the need for improvements in the capabilities of emergency first responders and in the overall capability of Federal, State, and local emergency response agencies to respond to and mitigate the effect of such incidents. Congressman Weldon is Chairman of the Subcommittee and also serves at Co-Chairman and founder of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus.
Last year, at the direction of Congress, the Federal Government began two initiatives that were aimed at providing training to first responders in emergency response to terrorism.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, began targeting 120 metropolitan jurisdictions for first responder training. This program includes a two-day, on site operations-level course for first responders. According to the Department of Defense (DoD), this training has been conducted in twenty-seven cities in 1997 and twenty-two more cities are scheduled to receive the training in 1998. Another part of this training program includes a four-hour, self-study, awareness course that is based on a haz-mat training model. The self-study was released nationally in June of 1997 and was distributed to every fire department in the country. The self-study course can also be downloaded from the National Fire Academy homepage at www.usfa.fema.gov/nfa/tr ertss.htm, or call the NFA Publications Office for a free copy at 301/447-1189.
The Defense against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act of 1996 also known as Nunn-Lugar II, appropriated $23 million to the DoD to increase first-responder preparedness against potential acts of chemical or biological terrorism. Originally, the DoD had targeted the top 27 cities in the United States by population to receive this training. This training will likely be expanded to reach 120 cities by the year 2002. Six cities have received this training so far. There has been talk of the National Guard taking a role in this training process. A study is currently underway to explore this possibility.
The testimony delivered at this hearing by Chief Curl addressed the need to continue this type of training and expand its availability so that fire departments in suburban and rural America may be prepared to deal with a potential act of terrorism. In his statement, Chief Curl explained to the Subcommittee that the bomb that was detonated in Oklahoma City was believed to have been constructed and transported through rural America. Many of the fundamentalist and extremist factions within our borders operate in rural and suburban settings. These areas are protected primarily by professional volunteers. The Federal training initiatives that have been conducted thus far have focused only on major metropolitan areas. This training must be expanded to reach America´s volunteer fire and emergency service that protects rural and suburban populations.
Chief Curl went on to explain that State and local emergency responders are in need of additional federal financial support to continue training of first responders to the basic awareness and incident command levels; to acquire the necessary personal protective equipment; obtain hazardous material detection equipment and training; and purchase large scale decontamination equipment and training.
Furthermore, it was stated that the volunteer fire service recognizes the importance of the role of military agencies in controlling an area that has been affected by a terrorist incident, but questions the effectiveness of having them train the fire and emergency services. This training must be provided from the fields of emergency management and hazardous materials management rather than from the military and its consultants. The military is an important player in the field of technical expertise with weapons of mass destruction, but managing the consequences of the use of such weapons in civilian setting requires a civilian approach.
The NVFC and the VCOS recommended, in their testimony, that Congress support training of first responders on domestic response to terrorist incidents through the National Fire Academy under the United States Fire Administration and FEMA. The National Fire Academy is prepared to provide this type of training to first responder contingent on proper support through the appropriations process.
The concept of using the National Guard as a supplemental responder to these events is a valid one. However, the National Guard can not substitute for the local fire and rescue services that will respond in the first minutes of a terrorist incident. The Federal Government must support local emergency response agencies in every community, both urban and rural. Every firefighter and emergency responder in America needs to be properly trained to respond to terrorist incidents involving weapons of mass destruction.
The NVFC will continue to monitor Federal initiatives to provide terrorism training to first responders and report developments in the Dispatch. In addition, the NVFC will work with federal agencies to ensure that volunteer fire departments are afforded the necessary training and equipment.
The only way to ensure that federal training initiatives are expanded to reach volunteer fire departments is for members of the volunteer fire service to contact their Members of Congress and demand that they support efforts to extend anti-terrorism training to all first responders, not just those that serve major metropolitan areas.
Action: Call the U. S. Capitol Switchboard at 202/225-3121, ask for the office of your Senators and Representative. Urge them to support expansion of federal anti-terrorism training to include suburban and rural communities in addition to metropolitan jurisdictions.