Each year the IAFF recognizes members of Congress who act as champions of firefighter issues by passing specific legislation or providing leadership in support of such issues.
The award will be presented to Menendez by members of the Jersey City Fire Department.
"Our efforts must entail doing everything within our power to support a substantial increase in personnel and equipment for our nation's fire departments," Menendez said in response to the honor. "America's firefighters put their lives on the line every day to protect us. They make this selfless sacrifice not for glory but because they are dedicated to protecting our families."
One of the first things Menendez did at the beginning of this congressional session was to send a letter to President George W. Bush requesting a significant increase in the fiscal 2006 budget for the hiring of first responders.
"Congress took a step toward fully staffing our firehouses with the enactment of SAFER Act in 2003," Menendez said. "But we can't let that remain old news. It will take a cooperative effort from the members of Congress, firefighters and the concerned public to ensure full funding of the SAFER Act."
The SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) Fire Fighters Act was drafted in the wake of the 9/11 tragedies. Passed by Congress in 2003, the SAFER enables more fire departments to operate with safe staffing levels. The SAFER allows fire departments to receive grants to help pay the salary and benefits of new fire fighters over a five-year period.
According to the International Association of Fire Fighters, the shortage of firefighting personnel is the biggest challenge facing the fire service today, with approximately two thirds of the nation's fire departments unable to meet nationally recognized minimum staffing standards. The SAFER Act authorized $7.6 billion over seven years for the United States Fire Administration (USFA) to provide grants to fire departments for the purpose of hiring, recruiting and retaining career and volunteer firefighters.
"Next, our firefighters must be able to talk with police and emergency management personnel," Menendez said. "It seems like a basic tenet of emergency response, but we must make sure that we provide the resources to update our communication systems and make them interoperable."
Menendez also said a separate program must be established to address the ever-expanding role of fire departments in the age of terrorism.
"This new program should get Homeland Security assistance direction into the hands of our local fire fighters," he said. "As the former Chairman of the Democratic Task Force on Homeland Security, I've been fighting from day one to get the resources and coordination we need at the local level, and as chairman of the Democratic Caucus, that's one of the fights I'm going to continue to lead."
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