Firefighters blast Bush

May boycott 9/11 tribute after veto of funding bill


WASHINGTON - The International Association of Firefighters caused a furor yesterday by voting unanimously to consider boycotting President Bush's October speech honoring the 343 FDNY personnel who died in New York.

The umbrella group for the nation's firefighter unions is furious that Bush cut $340 million in funding last week, some of which would have improved outdated radio equipment - a key reason so many firefighters didn't hear warnings to get out of the twin towers Sept. 11.

"President Bush, you are either with us or against us. You can't have it both ways," said the association's general president, Harold Schaitberger. "Don't lionize our fallen brothers in one breath and then stab us in the back."

Bush killed a $5.1 billion spending bill Tuesday that also contained money for veterans, AIDS prevention, domestic security, Israel and health testing for Ground Zero workers.

Virginia firefighter Michael Mohler, who made the boycott motion Wednesday night at the association's convention in Las Vegas, accused Bush of standing with firefighters only for the cameras.

"We will work actively to not grant him another photo op with us," he said.

The motion to consider boycotting appearances with Bush - including his Oct. 6 tribute in Washington to fallen New York firefighters - was unanimously adopted.

The firefighters also cheered a motion to return a videotaped speech Bush had sent the convention and then discussed an FDNY memorial slated for the New York-New York casino.

Tom Butler, spokesman for New York's Uniformed Firefighters Association, said news of the vote had not reached union members, many of whom were out rallying for raises yesterday.

Bush said he killed the spending bill because he opposed unrelated funding added by the Senate and said he would sign a stripped-down bill.

Among the included items he repeatedly ridiculed was $2 million to the Smithsonian Institution for a new building "to house worms and bugs."

But the Smithsonian says the specimen collection - currently preserved in 730,000 gallons of highly flammable alcohol blocks from the White House - must be moved. Members of both parties support the move, and Bush's own budget had requested it.