The following editorial appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on Tuesday, August 7, 2007. Several days later, Captain Anthony "Tommy" Thomas wrote a letter to the editor sharing his feelings about the editorial. Chief Sue Labrie also submitted a letter to the Gazette which was not printed in the paper. The editorial, along with the responses to it are listed below:
In Our Opinion: Dithering on Security
Used by permission. Copyright GazetteNET.com
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Two seemingly unrelated events - Goshen's plans to purchase a new fire engine, and a UMass professor's passport problems - demonstrate how the Department of Homeland Security has lost its focus nearly six years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The department has yet to tackle the big jobs, particularly the problems cited by the independent 9/11 commission established by Congress. Our borders remain porous, immigration enforcement is inconsistent, security continues to be lax at our ports, and the bulk of the cargo entering this country goes uninspected. Meanwhile, travelers face more and more headaches and delays at airports, as the department continually revises its guidelines about what's acceptable to take on a flight.
In the meantime, though, the Department of Homeland Security has become very good at handing out public-safety grants - so much so that the conservative Heritage Foundation has accused the agency of succumbing to pork-barrel politics.
It's hard to dispute that perception, particularly given all the hoopla that accompanies these grant announcements.
Goshen learned last week that it will receive a $308,750 Homeland Security grant to purchase a new fire engine. The money was one of 459 grants, totaling $35 million, issued by the Department of Homeland Security. In announcing the grant, Sen. Edward Kennedy's office made sure to point out that Goshen's award was the eighth-largest nationwide in the current round of Homeland Security funding. That sounds an awful lot like pork politics.
There's no question that Goshen is badly in need of a new fire engine - it will replace a pumper that has been in service for 47 years - and it's not clear how the town would have been able to afford one given the resistance to a Proposition 21/2 override.
However, there ought to be another way for the state and federal government to help cash-squeezed communities purchase necessary public-safety equipment. Congress ought to be willing to create such a program and then vote to allocate the necessary funds. The Department of Homeland Security is the wrong vehicle for this kind of program; issuing public-safety grants only detracts from its primary mission of deterring terrorists.
Which brings us to the case of Thomas Juravich, a professor and director of the Labor Relations Research Center at UMass who regularly travels to Canada. He encountered a problem two weeks ago when a Canadian customs agent discovered that Juravich had been arrested in a sit-in during a 1981 strike at Westfield Sterling Radiator. The charge against him was dropped the next day, but the Canadian customs agent barred Juravich from entering the country until he could provide documents to clear his name.
Juravich was snared because of a new information-sharing partnership between the United States and Canada. Apparently, though, the information that's being shared isn't too good. There shouldn't be this kind of confusion at the border. If the Department of Homeland Security cannot step in and vouch for someone with Juravich's credentials, how can we have confidence that it's capable of catching people who might be coming over the border to do us harm?
It's easy to talk tough on national security - politicians of all stripes do it all the time - but it can't hide the fact that the nation has yet to take the proper steps to address the lessons learned from Sept. 11. It's time to reassess the behemoth known as the Department of Homeland Security and get it refocused on its mission. We don't have the luxury of letting it dither indefinitely.
Fire Truck will help Goshen protect the public's safety
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
To the editor:
Your Aug. 7 editorial about the Town of Goshen being awarded a federal grant for the purchase of a fire truck misses several points.
First this is not a Homeland Security grant but rather an Assistance to Firefighters Grant that happens to be administered by the Department of Homeland Security. This is because President Bush saw fit to move this program that the combined fire services organizations worked very hard to get into the budget to, as you say, provide some funds for fire departments to purchase needed equipment to provide for the safety of their citizens as well as the safety of the firefighters.
The first responders of this country put their lives on the line every day but are not funded as they should be because the only emergency that is important is your own event. When you dial 911 you expect a response. Our duty is to respond.
The fire services keep pressure on the politicians to keep this bill funded. It is only good politics to let them announce the grants.
Because our chief was willing to write this grant proposal on time she is not being paid for, to find fault is to undermine her work. Instead the taxpayers of Goshen applaud her.
Anthony Thomas Jr.
To the editor,
Your August 7th editorial “Dithering on security” misrepresents the purpose of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) the Goshen Fire Department received. Though this grant comes under the Department of Homeland Security umbrella, it is a program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA states, “grants are awarded to fire departments to enhance their ability to protect the public and fire service personnel from fire and related hazards”. The AFG website states, “The primary goal of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) is to meet the firefighting and emergency response needs of fire departments and nonaffiliated emergency medical services organizations. Since 2001, AFG has helped firefighters and other first responders to obtain critically needed equipment, protective gear, emergency vehicles, training, and other resources needed to protect the public and emergency personnel from fire and related hazards. The National Preparedness Directorate in the Federal Emergency Management agency administers the grants in cooperation with the U.S. Fire Administration. For fiscal year 2005, Congress reauthorized the Assistance to Firefighters Grants for an additional 5 years through 2010.”
There are no “pork politics” involved, as you stated. This is a highly competitive federal grant. There were nearly 21,000 applications submitted for this grant in 2007. Massachusetts submitted 339 of those. This number demonstrates the need, as this is a tedious grant to apply for. Submitted applications are prescreened electronically. Those that make it past the electronic scan are reviewed by a revolving panel of 3 people from the fire service profession and then scored. The score of the grant application dictates which are awarded and which are not.
You commented “there ought to be another way for the state and federal government to help cash-squeezed communities purchase necessary public-safety equipment. Congress ought to be willing to create such a program and then vote to allocate the necessary funds.” The AFG is that program! Senator Kennedy has supported this program and I am proud of him for doing so. We need to let the politicians know when they do good things. They shouldn’t just hear from us when we don’t agree with them. The fact that Senator Kennedy’s office called the small town of Goshen’s Volunteer Fire Department to announce the award personally shows that he cares about his state, its citizens and the fire service. For that, I am grateful.
Your questions about improving Homeland Security still remain. Those issues are not the focus of the AFG. However, when an emergency incident occurs, terrorist or not, local or regional, fire departments are called to respond. We need to be prepared for anything and everything. This has meant additional training and improved equipment. The AFG is helping fire departments across the nation purchase necessary equipment to keep firefighters (whether they are career or volunteer) safer doing their job. Firefighting has changed. It is no longer as simple as putting the “wet stuff on the red stuff”. This grant is helping the Goshen Fire Department purchase a new pumper with a Compressed Air Foam System (CAFS). This will greatly improve firefighter safety. CAFS will help reduce property damage by providing faster fire extinguishment while using less water (a huge factor in a town without fire hydrants). The award of this grant to the Goshen Fire Department is an incredible blessing. The new vehicle will help keep our firefighters safer while improving emergency response capability for not only Goshen but also the entire region as we respond when called to supply mutual aid.
Susan M. Labrie
Chief, Goshen Fire Department