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Published: Friday, 3/25/2005

Study says U.S. shorts localities on crisis funds

First responders around the country are worried that the federal government is not giving enough money to municipalities to protect citizens, according to a report issued yesterday by a national organization.

The First Response Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates for funding for first responders such as police, fire, and emergency medical services, held a teleconference on the federal budget.

The organization estimates that unless federal budget priorities change, first responders will be underfunded by $100.2 billion by 2008.

Todd Main, director of the First Responses Coalition, said the lack of funds will prevent proper training, needed communication improvements, and equipment purchases.

Battalion Chief Greg Locher of the Toledo Fire Department's Homeland Security Bureau said Lucas County received $5.3 million from the federal government for a new communication system.

"You hear $5.3 million and you say that's a lot of money, but it's not when you really look at it," Chief Locher. "A new communications system is going to cost us $34 million."

He said the biggest concerns locally are paying for training and keeping equipment updated. "We're not poor, but we are concerned," Chief Locher said.

Bill Fox, commissioner of the Metropolitan Fire Association in New York City, said during the teleconference that Congress is not keeping its promise it made to New York and other cities immediately after 9-11 that the federal government would provide funds so municipalities could protect themselves from another terror attack.

Gene Stilp, president of the Dauphin-Middle Paxton Fire Department in central Pennsylvania, said during the teleconference that communications can make a real difference in managing and responding to a crisis. Updating municipalities in that area should be one of the top priorities, he added.

The coalition's representatives said the federal budget is cutting programs like the Homeland Security's Office of Domestic Preparedness, Community Oriented Policing Services, and the Assistance to Firefighters grant program.

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