Officials Promise Firefighters Terrorism Aid

Associated Press Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- National policy makers on Saturday promised to work toward getting new equipment for firefighters coping with the threat of terrorism after Sept. 11.

Speaking to about 17,000 fire chiefs and personnel, Transportation Security Administration chief James Loy and U.S. senators pledged more support to fire departments.

Among other things, attendees at the weekend-long convention of the International Association of Fire Chiefs are debating how fire departments can respond to potential new threats.

Loy, charged by President Bush to restore security to the nation's transportation systems, said firefighting technology must be upgraded as terrorists become more sophisticated.

``We must take advantage of the new technology, or the terrorists will use it against us,'' he said.

Loy praised firefighters for their dedication under dangerous circumstances.

``The American people know that when they need help, you will always be there,'' Loy said.

Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri said the lesson learned on Sept. 11 is that ``terrorists can strike anywhere. Old equipment and gear is not what we need to defend America.''

The Transportation Security Administration was created after Sept. 11, focusing first on airport security. But Loy said its mission will eventually expand to railroads, highways and ports.

After looking over a hazardous materials de-contamination tent, fire capt. Troy Johnson of Charlotte, N.C. said Bush has supported firefighters by proposing spending on fire equipment.

``I think it's a permanent thing,'' Johnson said. ``I don't think you'll see this go by the wayside in a year.''

But such talk from politicians does not impress Thomas Von Essen, who was fire commissioner in New York on Sept. 11.

While not specifically referring to the speakers, Von Essen said pronouncements from politicians about their support for firefighters ``almost makes me sick.''

``It's a shame that we need a tragedy like this for them to understand that we need training, and equipment,'' Van Essen said. ``I wonder what will have to happen to make them understand that (emergency medical technicians) need help too.''