“The least we can do to show our appreciation for [firefighters] is to ensure that you have fellow firefighters there on the line with you helping to save lives,” said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) at the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue (NHRFR) Headquarters in West New York early Monday morning.
Menendez and Rep. Albio Sires (D-13th Dist.) joined Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representatives, local officials, and first responders to announce the award of a $5.5 million federal grant to NHRFR so that they can hire 32 new full-time firefighters. Menendez and Sires were involved in securing the grant.
The squad will have 90 days to hire the new firefighters, and they must hire from a state service list. This comes after the Newark branch of the NAACP filed suit, years ago, charging that the squad’s local residency requirement was discriminatory. The U.S. Supreme Court turned down a NHRFR appeal in June to continue hiring firefighters only from the five Hudson County towns they service.
The $5.6 million marks one of the largest federal grants given out in the entire country.
“Senator Bob Menendez understands that public safety must be our top priority, which is why he’s lead the charge in Washington to increase funding for our fire departments and our first responders,” Weehawken Mayor and NHRFR Chairman Richard Turner said. “We cannot walk away from our obligations to the men and women who put their lives on the line for all of us every day.”
Region at risk
“[NHRFR] Chief Frank Montaigne leads a group of firefighters in one of the more challenging areas in our country,” Menendez announced. “This particular region has been called the most dangerous two miles in America.”
He referred to a 2005 article in the New York Times that referred to the stretch between the Port of Newark in Elizabeth to the Lincoln Tunnel in Weehawken to be at a particularly high risk for terrorist attack.
Not only this, but North Hudson happens to be one of the most densely populated areas in the country. Approximately 200,000 people live within 23,500 sq. miles, Menendez said, which include four of the nation’s most densely populated cities (Union City, Jersey City, Hoboken, and Guttenberg).
Menendez said the region has over 75,000 emergency incidents per year; including a high number of fire incidents. There were 710 in 2009, and 717 in 2010, he said.
“This [grant] is crucial,” Sires said. “When I tell people in Washington that I live in a community that is one square mile and has 50,000 people, they look at me like I have two heads.”
Preparedness in the wake of tragedy
Each local official found the timing of the grant appropriate, with its announcement on the eve of the eleventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“We are on the verge tomorrow of commemorating the 11th anniversary,” Menendez said. “In fact, on that fateful day, it was not the federal government who came and responded to the challenges and the tragedy of the World Trade Center, it was local police and firefighters and emergency management that responded. They are the ones that we call upon, and while some may have forgotten the challenges of that fateful day, I have not.”
When hurricane Irene hit New Jersey last year, the entire state was affected, and local first responders crossed municipal lines to help out as best they could.
Success despite tough financial times
“It seems to me in the list of all the hyperbolic partisan talk in Washington about deficits, earmarks, and wasteful spending, critical support for our nation’s greatest cannot get lost in the weeds,” Menendez said. “Those who believe in dramatic cuts to local communities should come and pay a visit to these neighborhood firefighters when they are risking their lives and tell us what they do is not as important as tax breaks for the wealthiest among us.”
Turner agreed. He said that NHRFR has received over $5 million for equipment, communications, and rescue vehicles that would normally be shouldered by the taxpayers over the past 10 years.
“Today’s announcement will more than double that,” Turner said. “This is very serious business in these tight economic times to receive so much money. Today is a very good day.”
Doing more with less is something North Hudson has gotten used to, officials said.
“Over the last several years we’ve seen the state and local budget shrink,” Menendez said. “These are difficult economic times. Everyone from family to federal government has to tighten their belts and make only investments that are critical to our future and to our security.”
The $5.6 million marks one of the largest federal grants given out in the entire country, he added.
For more information on NHRFR, visit www.nhfirefighters.org.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org