Thank you. It’s great to be here with you all this morning.
I’m especially proud to be standing here with my friend and new colleague, Congressman Bill Pascrell. Congressman Pascrell fights harder than anyone in Washington on behalf of our firefighters and first responders, and I’m honored to join him in that effort. And, as of today, I’m officially joining the Congressional Firefighter Caucus which Congressman Pascrell chairs
As you all know, Congressman Pascrell authored our nation’s first comprehensive legislation to meet the needs of fire departments across the country, the Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement, or FIRE Act. He has pushed time and again to enhance the resources available to our local fire departments and first responders. So, I’m honored to stand here with Bill.
I’m proud, too, that this morning’s event – here with our firefighters and first responders -- is my first official event since I took office last week as the newest Member of Congress in our delegation. And, my friends, coming here today to be with those who protect us wasn’t by chance, it was by choice.
Not only is it part of the oath I took to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” But, as I have said for nearly two years now, we must always stand by those who stand by us. We must always get the backs of those who protect our communities, who make us safer, who make our neighborhoods, like those here in Teaneck, the places we want to raise our families.
But as Jim and Bill have all pointed out: our firefighters and all first responders can’t protect us without the resources they need to do their job safely and effectively. That’s why I’m here this morning and why my office, like Congressman Pascrell’s, will work overtime to fight for first responders – and to fight for many of the towns in my District who deserve more resources than they’re currently getting from the federal government.
You know, Ben Franklin started the first fire department in Philadelphia back in 1736 after seeing fire after fire devastate his hometown, including one in 1711 that burned 110 houses to the ground. The Union Fire Company had 30 volunteers and the first fire engine called the “Shag Rag.”
Fortunately, over the last 280 years, we’ve fine-tuned our techniques, technology has come a long way, and Bergen County have second-to-none firefighters--but we’re still fighting fires nearly every week. And that’s just the beginning of your job.
Our firefighters today face challenges and dangers Ben Franklin never anticipated.
For instance, ;one wolf terrorism seems to rear its ugly head far too often, including in places like Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, and San Bernardino – and all of our first responders are on the front lines. And, our first-responders have to be prepared to handle literal train bombs filled with combustible Baaken oil that roll through the back yards of densely populated towns like Teaneck and Bergenfield every day.
Then there’s all the stuff firefighters do that never generates front-page headlines including responding to car accidents, heart attacks, and health emergencies. The bottom line: if there is a crisis, they’re there. Our firefighters see it all, and, like all first responders, they have to be prepared for all.
So, how do we make sure that our firefighters and first responders have the training they need to handle all that comes at them? And how do we make sure our towns and fire departments have what they need to protect our citizens? The SAFER Grants, which application period opens today, are a key piece of the puzzle.
As Bill said, they provide federal dollars directly to local fire departments to help them hire, train, and retain the staff they need to run effectively and keep our communities safe.
We saw the importance of this capability this past fall when our first responders jumped into action to respond to the lone wolf terrorist attack that shook New York and New Jersey. And, of course, we saw it after 9/11, when so many brave men and women ran into the burning towers.
I urge fire departments across northern New Jersey -- in Bergen, Sussex, Warren, and Passaic counties-- to apply, so we can get more, well-trained firefighters on the front lines to safely and effectively respond to emergencies. This isn’t a partisan issue--it’s a what’s good for the 5th District issue.
Also, by aggressively chasing down federal grants like these, we can close the huge gap between the funds Fifth District residents send to Washington each year in taxes and what we actually get back to support our local communities.
As I’ve said repeatedly, and a big reason I ran for Congress, the taxpayers here in the Fifth District have been getting a terrible ROI on our federal tax dollars. We are one of the top taxpaying district in the entire country, yet we are toward the bottom of what we get back – just 33 cents for every federal tax dollar we’ve been sending to Washington. That’s less than half the NJ state average. Places like West Virginia get $4.23 cents for every taxpayer dollar they send to Washington. It’s a raw deal for us and it means that our local towns and property taxes have to make up the gap.
I’m committed to fixing that – to fighting for lower taxes and to cutting wasteful spending, and to bringing more federal tax dollars we do send to Washington back here to the Fifth District.
That starts with being more aggressive about working with our towns and municipalities and ensuring they apply for important grant programs like theSAFER Grants. After all, why should Birmingham or Biloxi get more support and training for firefighters while we are left out in the cold?
If we are smart, and get more dollars back home, our municipalities will carry less of the cost burden themselves--and that means relief for our local property taxes. And it means safer communities.
And based on FEMA’s website, in the last two years, we haven’t received a nickel in SAFER grants here in the 5th. Not a nickel for Teaneck or Hackensack or Newton or Hackettstown.
I’m committed to securing every possible federal penny for our local communities, and I am going to partner with my friends Congressman Pascrell, County Executive Tedesco, mayors across the district, and the rest of our delegation to do that.
These SAFER Grants are an opportunity to reverse the flow of funds out of New Jersey into Washington and to make sure we look after those who put their lives on the line to look after us. But we can’t help if the departments don’t apply.
To the mayors and fire departments: you have a month to get in your applications for these funds--the application period opens today and closes on February 10th. My office is here to help and will be reaching out to all of you in the next week to help guide you through the process and offer our support in Washington.
Thanks again for having our backs in ways big and small. And we will always have yours.