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Lawmaker wants $600 million for firefighter training

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked the Office of Management and Budget to immediately allocate $600 million to help firefighters with training and equipment they need.

Wyden's proposal came during a hearing Thursday before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space on the Capitol Hill.

"The testimony I have read makes it clear that additional resources are needed and needed now," Wyden said at the hearing. "There is neither the time, nor a need, to wait for a torturous legislative process to begin equipping fire companies now."

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John Buckman III, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, told the committee nearly 75,000 additional firefighters are needed nationwide to better deal with any emergency such as the terrorist attacks a month ago. And he urged Congress to give the money to do it.

"The primary objective of adding 75,000 firefighters is raising the staffing level of fire departments throughout the country to four firefighters per unit," Buckman testified before the committee.

Citing the serious need for effective communication among first responders in case of a terrorist attack, Buckman also urged the committee to direct the Federal Communications Commission, as well as the Pentagon, to free up radio frequencies in order for all the agencies to better communicate.

"In major incidents where the responding emergency personnel involved come from different jurisdictions or agencies, each using its own radio frequencies, the issue of radio communications among and between responding agencies remains a challenge," Buckman told the senators.

Wyden spoke to OMB Director Mitch Daniels Thursday evening, according to his director of communications, and Daniels listened to the appeal but has not made any commitment whether the White House would approve $600 million immediately.

If approved, those funds may come from the $40 billion emergency spending bill passed by Congress shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.


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