Firefighters will challenge Bush decision

Saturday, August 17, 2002

WASHINGTON -- The International Association of Fire Fighters plans to challenge President Bush's decision to withhold money that would help fire departments, but will not boycott the memorial service for fallen firefighters, the union's president said Friday.

"We would never ever boycott any of the memorials that are going to honor my members," general president Harold Schaitberger said after the union convention adjourned Friday.

The union voted during its Las Vegas assembly to ask Schaitberger to protest Bush's decision to withhold $5.1 billion in anti-terrorism funds. The options included boycotting the annual service in memory of fallen firefighters, scheduled for Oct. 6 in Washington. Bush has been invited to speak.

In New York, 343 firefighters lost their lives when terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center Sept. 11.

Bush said he had a strong commitment to firefighters, but needed to cut federal spending.

"I chose not to spend the $5 billion because, one, we didn't need to and, two, it is important for this country to be fiscally disciplined as our economy begins to recover," Bush said.

The funds included $100 million for improvements to communications systems for firefighters, police officers and other emergency personnel.

Bush also blocked $90 million for long-term health monitoring of emergency workers at Ground Zero and $150 million for equipment and training grants to fire departments.

Schaitberger said he would write a letter to Bush, and return the videotaped message Bush sent to firefighters. "We will find the appropriate venue to vent our anger and show our protest," Schaitberger said.

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