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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With John Timoney, Harold Schaitberger

Aired June 30, 2003 - 20:09   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to change our focus now to something else that has gained a lot of attention over the last 24 hours or so. Is America prepared for another 9/11 attack? That question is being debated today in the wake of a very stern warning from the Council on Foreign Relations. A task force assembled by the council has concluded that the United States is dangerously unprepared for another major terrorist attack, because front-line emergency workers are underfinanced, underequipped and undertrained.
Now, the first response to any terrorist attack likely would come from local police and fire departments. And joining us now from Miami, Police Chief John Timoney, and from Chicago this evening, Harold Schaitberger of the International Association of Firefighters. Welcome, gentlemen. Glad to have both of you with us this evening.

HAROLD SCHAITBERGER, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIREFIGHTERS: Hi, Paula.

JOHN TIMONEY, MIAMI POLICE CHIEF: Good to be with you this evening.

ZAHN: Thank you. Mr. Schaitberger, I am going to start with you first. There are some dramatic numbers to share with our audience tonight that came out of the study that only 10 percent of fire departments in the U.S. have the personnel and the equipment to deal with the collapse of a building. Number two, that some fire departments have only enough radios to equip half the firefighters on a shift, and breathing apparatus for only a third. How could this be?

SCHAITBERGER: Well, Paula, first of all, this report confirms what we have been trying to tell the public, tell the Congress and tell the administration for the last 18 months. And that is that the fire services are not prepared nor adequately equipped to be prepared for the next terrorist attack. Primarily we are understaffed. Two- thirds of the departments in this country do not have enough firefighters, number one, to do the job. Add to that the equipment that is a shortage and communications breathing apparatus. It is a terrible situation the firefighters of this nation are being asked to face.

ZAHN: Let me ask you this, Secretary Ridge went before Congress today and he said we are in his words, "far better prepared and far more secure today than we were on September 12, 2001," that is because the federal government has expended billions of dollars. Are you suggesting that money has not been well spent at all, or have you seen any improvement? SCHAITBERGER: Well, let me say that I think that Secretary Ridge is an honorable man. But the fact of the matter is that the money that the first responders, our nation's firefighters need, has just begun to trickle down to them. There is a lot of money on papers, there is a lot of appropriation bills, authorization bills, reorganization of a huge federal agency, but firefighters have yet to see the real money, the resources that they need to have the staff, the equipment and the training to do their job efficiently and safely.

ZAHN: Chief Timoney, do you think law enforcement will ever be able to say that the public is as safe as they would like it to be?

TIMONEY: Probably not. But clearly I think the -- this report may be too alarmist. I do think we're in better shape than we were prior to September 11. Not perfect yet, it probably never will be perfect. But I can guarantee you, think of the big cities. We have got to break this down. Not all firefighters, not all police officers, but in the big cities, there has been over the last year and a half a lot of training going on, cross-training, working with -- not just fire departments but with other city agencies.

There is an awful lot that has gone on. Now, the part with the money, the fire officers collected (ph) has been slow in coming. And one of the problems for the mayors of the major cities is that it's stopping off in the states which takes 20 percent off the top before it sends it down to the various localities. And even then, I think most major cities think they are being short changed.

ZAHN: I'm not expecting you to answer for all the major urban police departments here, but you have had a lot of conduct -- contacts with other police chiefs since you've run several major departments by now. Do you believe that there has been an appreciable increase in the protection these police departments can offer American citizens than they were on September 11, 2001?

TIMONEY: There has definitely been an improvement. There has been. Is there a lot more to be done? Absolutely. If you look at Miami, the vulnerabilities by the waterways, the port of Miami, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Miami River, you know, there is a real vulnerability there. On the borders, whether it's a border to the south with Mexico or the north with Canada, needs to be shored up. We have vessels coming in in major American ports on a daily basis bringing containers in, of which about 2 percent are only inspected at this point. There is a lot of improvement that can be done. But there has been a lot -- I think some improvement since September 11.

ZAHN: And finally, Mr. Schaitberger, if we were to give you a blank check tonight, just name -- tick off the first two things you would spend money on that would make you feel that your firefighters were able to protect the American public the way they would like to.

SCHAITBERGER: First thing we need is we need the money to be able to hire enough firefighters to do a job. And I would like to take just a quick second if I could to take issue with my good friend from law enforcement. That side of the equation may have seen significant improvement. But I just left the 100 largest fire chiefs of the 100 largest cities in North America this morning, and I can tell you that the large cities and the fire service are not that much improved. We need money for more firefighters, more equipment, more training. We're laying firefighters off and closing stations in places like New York City, which is unbelievable in the back of that horrific event of 22 months ago.

ZAHN: Chief Timoney, you get the final thought tonight.

TIMONEY: I'm not denying that there is a funding need. But what I'm saying is there is a huge difference between the Miami Fire Department and the Philadelphia -- the New York Fire Department as opposed to some suburban fire department. That's my contention.

ZAHN: Gentlemen, thank you for your time and thank you for all the hard work you do for the folks living in your communities.

TIMONEY: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: Good luck to both of you.

SCHAITBERGER: Thank you.

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