1998 Congressional Hearings
Special Weapons
Nuclear, Chemical, Biological and Missile


 

FEDERAL RESPONSE TO DOMESTIC
TERRORISM INVOLVING WMD
TRAINING FOR FIRST RESPONDERS
WITNESS STATEMENT

CHIEF RAYMOND M. DOWNEY
SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND
FIRE DEPARTMENT
CITY OF NEW YORK

MARCH 21, 1998


Good morning Mr. Chairman and committee members.  My name is Ray Downey and I'm the Chief of Rescue Operations for the Fire Department in the City of New York.  First I would like to thank you for holding this hearing today.  The Fire Service greatly appreciates the fact that your committee has concerns regarding WMD.  The fire service is greatly concerned being first responders that will eventually have to deal with the issues of WMD.

My intent today is to speak not only as a member of the FDNY, but for the entire Fire Service.  I have had the unique experience to respond to incidents of WMD both as a first responder and as a federal asset that arrived on the scene some twelve hours after the incident.  This is one of many concerns that the fire service has about the training and expectations of both the fire service and federal support that is being promised in the event of an incident involving WMD.

During the World Trade Center bombing I was on the scene immediately after the bombing had taken place.  Unless you have been their; you cannot fully appreciate what firefighters face during an incident of WMD terrorism.  The fire service has always been respected by the public for their immediate response capability to the calls of those in danger.  With that response comes the dedication and fearless courage displayed by these firefighters.  It wasn't any different at the World Trade Center.  As a result of this terrorism incident, firefighters that operated at this incident still question what would have happened had that bomb been a "dirty" bomb.  Would we take the same actions today, if a major bombilic, were to occur in our response district?  Five years later, we are better prepared, have more knowledge about WMD, but still see many short falls in the area of First Responder capabilities for dealing with and mitigating incidents of WMD.  The fear of Chemical or Biological terrorism is foremost in the minds of every firefigther.  What we read and hear about regarding the nations preparations and training for these incidents does not go far enough.

During the World Trade Center bombing firefighters not only faced a difficult fire operation, but had to evacuate almost 50,000 occupants from the Trade Center complex.   More than 500 victims were treated for various injuries, while another 600 responded to hospitals on their own.  What would have happened if they had been contaminated by a chemical agent?  In 1993 not a fire department in the United States could have handled an incident involving a chemical agent affecting this many victims.   Can the fire service handle the same potential incident in 1998 after five years of additional preparation and training?  The answer in most cases is a "NO".   Why?  Lack of sufficient funding and training for WMD.

Two years after the Oklahoma City bombing 9 Chief Gary Marrs of the Oklahoma Fire Department providing witness testimony stated that we, the fire service, are no better prepared than we were back in 1995.  Why?  The training that has been given with federal funding is not being directed to the "First responder", and the lack of providing funding for the necessary equipment for these responders is directly related to the lack of our preparedness, My experience of working for sixteen (16) days as the Operations Chief for the Urban Search and Rescue Teams in Oklahoma City only reinforces my feelings about the needs of the first responders.  The Oklahoma City Fire Department has not received the real credit they deserve for the heroic actions they took during those first few hours before any help or support arrived from outside their jurisdiction.   As was the case in the rescue effort during the World Trade Center bombing, the same results occurred during the Oklahoma City bombing.  Not one victim in either incident died as a result of awaiting rescue by the firefighters after the bombing.   The first responders, AKA, the firefighters in both cases performed these heroic actions only because they were able to-be on the scene within minutes and were properly trained and equipped.  But, what if that bomb had an additional chemical agent dispersed with the explosion.  Would the success rate been the same" Not likely.   What would happen if it occurred today?  Would we be prepared?  Some fire departments have increased their capabilities, but the majority of the country is still not prepared for these type incidents.

In Atlanta the experience gained by the fire service after the bombing of the Family Planning Center, undoubtedly saved lives of firefighters and other emergency personnel that responded to the bombing of the Gay and Lesbian Nite Club.  They had learned their lessons from the previous incidents.  We have not had this opportunity when dealing with chemical, biological or nuclear terrorist incidents.  What is it that the fire service needs to be prepared for these type incidents'?  The preparation, training and equipment requirements should be approached from a bottom up planning process.  Permit the first responders to get involved with the many various agencies at the Federal level that are preparing terrorism training programs that will ultimately affect them.  This can be accomplished by reaching out to the first responder and finding out exactly what the needs of the fire service are.  The federal government needs to provide assistance and funding, for training, detection equipment, personal protective equipment and mass decontamination capabilities.  The realization by the federal government that the resources that they will supply to local jurisdictions during a WMD incident will be of support role and work under the direction of the local incident commander.  If these goals can be reached the fire service will be much more capable of dealing with WMD incidents.

I want to thank you again for this opportunity to appear as a witness before you today and express to you on behalf of the entire fire service our sincere gratitude for the all the work and accomplishments that have benefited the fire service through your efforts.   It is the first responder that will be facing the challenges that WMD presents, they are the ones that need the funding and assistance that the Federal Government can provide.