Mo. senator calls for increased money for disaster response

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Federal legislation to bolster first responders' readiness for terror attacks would speed dollars to federal search and rescue teams and local fire and safety officials.

The measure's author, Sen. Kit Bond, is traveling across Missouri to promote his efforts during a two-week congressional break. He started Tuesday at St. Louis University's Center for the Study of Bioterrorism and Emerging Infections.

"For too many years, the federal government has given these experts only a dime for every dollar they need to be ready to respond," Bond said.

He will be at the fire station in Gordonville, Mo., around noon today to meet with volunteer firefighters and other rescue workers from Cape Girardeau, Perry, Scott and Bollinger counties.

Bond's legislation also would remove civil liability barriers that discourage donation of fire equipment to volunteer fire companies.

On hand Tuesday in St. Louis were members of Missouri Task Force 1, one of the federal response teams that combed through the rubble of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon for survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks. Their leader, Boone County, Mo., fire chief Steve Paulsell, testified before a Senate Appropriations Committee panel last month.

Part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the 28 urban search-and-rescue teams respond to disasters within hours. Paulsell told lawmakers the federal task forces are designed to have $1.8 million worth of gear but have yet to be fully equipped.

Bond is proposing to authorize $160 million for the federal responders and, once all 28 groups are fully funded, allow FEMA to add more teams. The money would come from President Bush's proposal to add $3.5 billion in new funds for the nation's first responders.

In addition, the legislation would allow FEMA to immediately spend $100 million in already-allocated funds on state fire and safety training programs for local first responders who would be called on to handle nuclear, chemical, conventional or biological attacks.

The measure also would set up a new office of national preparedness within FEMA to coordinate efforts at the federal, state and local levels to handle acts of terrorism. The bill also would reduce the risk of lawsuits under current law that discourage the donation of fire equipment to volunteer fire departments, something proposed by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., in the House.

In the coming days, Bond also plans to talk about the proposals with Missouri fire and emergency personnel in the communities of Columbia, San Antonio, Galt, El Dorado Springs, and in Wayne County.

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