Firefighters tout bill to hire first responders
$35B plan would help communities add emergency personnel
PHOENIX — A plan before Congress to help communities add first responders would improve response times to 911 calls and make Arizonans safer, the leader of a firefighters union said Wednesday.
“In our business, time can cost people’s lives, and it really can impact their quality of life after the call,” said Bryan Jeffries, executive vice president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona.
Jeffries and firefighters from several Valley fire departments held a news conference to promote the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act, a bill introduced this week by Democratic senators.
The legislation would allocate $35 billion to help financially strapped state and local governments hire, rehire and retain teachers, firefighters, paramedics and police officers.
The bill would be paid for by a surtax on individuals earning more than $1 million.
Because of the recession and depressed tax revenues, Jeffries said when firefighters retire there’s not enough money to hire replacements. As a result, he said, the state has lost several hundred firefighters over the past three years.
Having understaffed fire departments means it takes longer to reach Arizonans in emergencies, Jeffries said.
“Public safety is one of the most critical reasons government exists, and if any of those dollars are going to be put into government stimulus-type programs then public safety should be considered in those deliberations,” he said.
Crystal Rezzonico, a fire captain in Phoenix, said as a native Phoenician she worries about the quality of care given to emergency callers.
“I want them to be able to be responded to in a decent amount of time,” she said.
Byron Schlomach, the chief economist for the Goldwater Institute, an independent watchdog group that promotes limited government and free enterprise, said hiring the public employees covered under the legislation is an issue that should be left to local governments.
“I don’t know why the federal government is even involving itself in a local funding issue,” he said.