First Responders:
A Last Priority?

The Status of New York
State’s Preparedness

Sheldon Silver, Speaker

RoAnn M. Destito
Committee on Governmental Operations

Robert K. Sweeney
Committee on Local Governments

Joseph R. Lentol
Committee on Codes

Richard N. Gottfried
Committee on Health

April 2004

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on our state, New York’s emergency first responders have been required to increase their already substantial responsibilities by preparing for threats and emergencies on a scale we’d never previously imagined. Below is “First Responders: A Last Priority?” a report outlining the concerns presented by first responders at a March 8, 2004 public hearing held in Albany, and Assembly initiatives intended to address those problems.

At the hearing, four issues came to the forefront consistently:

  • inadequate federal funding
  • outdated or obsolete radio equipment and communication systems
  • statewide equipment shortages
  • insufficient access to training

The members of the Assembly Majority have repeatedly worked to ensure that first responders have the assets they need to keep New York’s residents safe. The enclosed report is designed to help spur an adequate state and federal response to this issue so that first responders are properly prepared.


RoAnn M. Destito
Chair, Committee on
Governmental Operations

Robert K. Sweeney
Chair, Committee on Local

Joseph R. Lentol
Chair, Committee on Codes

Richard N. Gottfried
Chair, Committee on Health

Executive Summary

First Responders, including fire, police and emergency medical services, are the critical component of New York State’s emergency response structure. September 11, 2001, highlighted their important role in responding to chemical and biological threats including anthrax scares.

On March 8, 2004, as part of an ongoing commitment to safeguard our communities, the Assembly held a hearing in Albany, New York entitled “Emergency First Responders: Equipment, Recruitment and Training.” The hearing provided a forum for First Responders to identify their needs and concerns relating to New York’s emergency response preparedness. First Responders from across the State testified about problems with existing preparedness efforts including funding, planning and coordination.

“We are ill prepared at the local level, and I’m fearful when I say that two and a half years after the incident that changed our sense of security, we’re unable to properly prepare ourselves for what the future may hold.”

James G. Litz, Captain of Patrol, City of Tonawanda Police Department

At the hearing, First Responders consistently identified four themes:

  • Inadequate federal funding
  • Outdated or obsolete radio equipment and communication systems
  • Statewide equipment shortages
  • Insufficient access to training

“I’m inclined to tell people now that if distortion and lies were music, the New York City Fire Department would be a marching band. We are not getting the training and equipment we need. And at the end of the day if communications, training and equipment are the blanket of public safety, we have a lot of holes in our blanket, and the people that are going to pay are going to be the public.”

Patrick J. Bahnken, President, Uniformed EMTs and Paramedics of FDNY

The First Responder Hearing was only the latest step in the Assembly’s ongoing commitment to ensuring increased homeland security. The First Responder hearing followed a series of joint hearings to review New York State’s organizational structure for disaster preparedness.

What is clear from these hearings is that the Executive has virtually left out New York’s First Responders in the planning and supplying of their response to natural and man-made disasters. This has led to a lack of equipment and supplies and a serious inability to communicate during even the simplest of emergencies. If our First Responders are to meet the threat of terrorism and other disasters, we need to take advantage of their expertise and experience. Our lives depend on it.

The Assembly has developed a comprehensive plan to enhanced preparedness, the “Terrorism Prevention, Preparedness and Enforcement Act” (A.10543) which contains initiatives to enhance First Responder preparedness, described in detail in this report.

Inadequate Federal Funding

Fair federal funding is vital to New York’s preparedness efforts. For every dollar New Yorkers send to Washington, we get back only 85 cents - ranking our state 40th in the nation, according to a recent estimate by the non-partisan Tax Foundation. The Business Council of New York State found also that for fiscal years 2000 and 2001, New York was shortchanged nearly $87 billion from the federal government. And when it comes to all-important federal anti-terrorism funding, New York State’s share per capita ranks close to last among the 50 states.

New York was the target of a terrorism attack in 1993, and was the biggest victim of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, yet the State is second to last in 2003 Office of Domestic Preparedness Homeland Security Grants, according to the Federal Funds Information for States. Per capita, Wyoming receives more than seven times the amount of homeland security funding than New York - or $35.67 per capita in Wyoming and $5.09 per capita in New York.

New York remains vulnerable to terrorist attacks. We have many high-profile landmarks such as the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, and an extensive transportation network, and we share a nearly 500-mile international border with Canada.

New York is also penalized by an arbitrary cap on the federal FIRE (Firefighter Improvement and Response Enhancement) Act grants, which provides money for municipal preparedness efforts. While Montana is budgeted for $9.07 per capita in FIRE grants, New York gets only $1.79. New York State ranks 40th in the nation under the program, with a per capita allocation of $8.84, compared to Vermont’s $31.96.

Under the High Threat Urban Area Grant Program, New York City receives a mere $5.87 per capita, while Miami and Orlando receive $52.82 and $47.14, respectively. In New York City, site of “ground zero” where the need has been so tragically proven, the City has shut down six firehouses.

Assembly Response:

  • New York’s Congressional delegation is working hard to secure additional homeland security funding for our State. The Assembly has repeatedly called on the Governor to take strong action and join in the fight for New York, most recently, through a legislative resolution sponsored by every member of the Assembly majority.

The Key to Response Rests with the Ability to Communicate


Without the ability to communicate, the effectiveness of First Responders to coordinate emergency response is severely hampered and the personal safety of First Responders is put at risk. At the hearing, First Responders overwhelmingly identified a critical weakness in the State’s existing preparedness efforts: they cannot readily communicate with each other using their existing emergency communications systems.

Inadequate, outdated and malfunctioning communication equipment, including hand-held radios, has often resulted in First Responders being unable to communicate with each other even as they respond to the disaster. These communication problems have been clearly evident on numerous occasions including: September 11, 2001; in Albany on New Year’s Eve when police were unable to communicate/receive an order to stop a police chase; and in the North Country in 1998, when the lack of adequate radio communications hampered a community’s response to a natural disaster.

  • “Our communication system is lacking so much that we, even our people that are presently involved in emergency operations, cannot get the information they need, or the assistance, or the additional equipment, because we cannot transmit from the subway system. So that’s a real, real problem that we have in New York City. That’s one of our biggest areas of vulnerability.”

    David Rosenzweig, President of the Uniformed Fire Alarm Dispatchers Benevolent Association of the FDNY

  • “For us, if a paramedic is working on a seriously or critically ill patient in a subway system, the options are two. One is to send your partner to run up the several flights of stairs until he can get outside and communicate, or carry a pocket full of quarters. It’s kind of sad in this age of information and technology that we do not have the appropriate technology to share the information.”

    Patrick J. Bahnken, President, Uniformed EMTs and Paramedics of FDNY

  • “As we went through the exercises required to identify critical infrastructure and gaps in our service delivery system, the lack of reliable, interoperable communications for First Responders always comes up. Our existing system is outdated, lacks redundancy, and when we speak of it, the words ‘patchwork, mandates, stop-gap and work-arounds’ always enter into the conversation. Our volunteer fire companies, which are 94 percent volunteer and serve 70 percent of the population, rely on 1950s technology for their communications.”

    Kevin Comerford, Commissioner of Erie County Central Police Services

  • “All too often, ambulances can’t communicate with squads in the next town, let alone with other emergency services or squads in the next county.”

    Michael Mastrianni, Jr., President, New York State Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Association, Inc.

Statewide Wireless Network

New York State intends to spend approximately $500 million to establish a Statewide Wireless Communications Network (SWN) for use by the State Police and other State agencies. However, it remains unclear to what extent the proposed network will in fact enhance the communications capabilities of our local First Responders. To date, the State, through the Office for Technology, has made an insufficient effort to involve local First Responders in the planning process to ensure that they have the technology and resources to make effective use of the SWN system.

During the course of the hearing, organizations were questioned about their involvement with the Statewide Wireless Network. Organizations frequently responded that not only were they not involved, but they were also unaware of the proposed system:

  • “I have no knowledge of the statewide wireless system.”

    William D. Nye, Chief of the East Aurora Police Department

  • “My communications system needs to be upgraded. I cannot justify making any investment in communications upgrade until I know that all upgrades will be compatible with the statewide system. I’m stuck, we’re all stuck.”

    Walter Reisner, immediate past Chair of United New York Ambulance Network (UNYAN)

  • “Over a year ago, the New York State EMS Council received a briefing on a proposal for a statewide wireless network. Our organization conveyed a brief report on this topic to our members. Our understanding was that outreach was going to be conducted to counties, and more detailed discussions were going to take place. While I cannot speak for every county, I am not aware of these discussions having taken place.”

    Michael J. Mastrianni, Jr., President of the New York State Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Association, Incorporated.

Assembly Response:

  • Develop a Statewide Emergency Response Communications System:
    The statewide communications network should link not only State agencies, but also ensure that local First Responders are able to communicate with each other, whether they are in Buffalo or Binghamton.
  • Provide all stakeholders with input:
    A task force would be created, consisting of State agencies, local governments and local First Responders including communications specialists. Within six months, the Task Force would recommend a plan to expand and convert the proposed Statewide Wireless Communications Network into a system that meets the communication needs of all First Responders, including localities. The task force would also: (i) recommend ways to coordinate emergency response systems to build upon the Assembly’s initiative for enhanced 911 to ensure statewide access to help in emergencies; (ii) recommend a plan to ensure that emergency phone access is made more widely available to New Yorkers, including areas in which cell phones are unusable, such as on subway platforms, and in more remote parts of the State, such as in the Adirondacks; and (iii) recommend protocols to ensure that emergency response communications reflect and accommodate the diversity of the New York community.

Lack of Equipment: Providing the Right Tools for the Job

First Responders provide an essential, life-saving service. In order to perform their jobs effectively they should be provided with the necessary equipment and tools to help them perform and ensure that our communities are safe.

The Assembly hearing revealed that many communities are receiving homeland security equipment that is incomplete or of sub-standard quality. Almost all of the First Responders testified about their frustrations regarding missing and delayed equipment and appealed for reliable equipment.

Missing Equipment

Some First Responders are getting less equipment than promised:

  • “The City of Elmira...has been designated Chemung County’s Haz-Mat team and yet when they applied to the County Coordinator to receive a Weapons of Mass Destruction Trailer, they were, initially denied. After a long arduous battle they received just one of the WMD trailers and 50 percent of the materials were missing.”

    John Black, Counsel, New York State Professional Fire Fighter Association

  • “All six trailers are missing many other items. We’ve been told by the State that the material is on back order with the manufacturers. We find it extremely hard to believe that, in New Rochelle’s case, 96 bars of Ivory Soap are on back order for two years. Garden hoses are back ordered. You know, maybe we should shop at the local supermarket, or Home Depot, whatever, because it’s all in stock, so I don’t know what the deal is.”

    Barry Nechis, Fire Lieutenant/Paramedic and EMS Coordinator New Rochelle Fire Department, Chairman of the Westchester County WMD Planning Committee

Delayed Equipment

Municipalities indicated that although requests have been made and approved through proper State programs, attempts to receive delivery of equipment have been frustrated by bureaucratic red tape.

  • “The instructors of this department have been teaching the proper methods of self-protection, including the use of personal protective equipment, but none has been provided or issued to any of the members as of this date.”

    Lt. Sherman F. Jones, Jr., Utica Police Department

  • “We are very concerned with the entire process for equipment deployment from the federal level until it reaches the local level. Westchester County requested a total of eight level a trailers and received two in 2002, a year after they were due. We received four additional trailers in the fall of 2003, also a year after they were due. At this time, none of these trailers are complete. All six trailers are missing many other items.”

    Barry Nechis, Fire Lieutenant/Paramedic and EMS Coordinator, New Rochelle Fire Department Chairman of the Westchester County WMD Planning Committee

Inadequate Equipment

  • “[Q]uite often the folks at the federal level want us to have things that, you know, beep, and have arms raising on them, and doing all of these wonderful things, and the reality is that we need more buckets of foam, we need more hoses, we need more turn-out gear. If you take a tour of this State, and what some of career and volunteer fire departments have to deal with as far as equipment is deplorable, and yet they’re still required to carry out the same function.”

    Thomas LaBelle, Executive Director of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs

  • “We are very pleased with the State’s selection of detectors, but to say that we are disappointed with some of the other equipment is a tremendous understatement. The decontamination shelters are garbage. They are so flimsy that they tear after one use. We need to deploy them a minimum of eight times to get all of our work groups through them and competent with using them, and then additionally about four times a year after that. During training, under the direction of the State, a State instructor, the first time out of the box, we pulled one apart, literally pulled it apart.”

    Barry Nechis, Fire Lieutenant/Paramedic and EMS Coordinator, New Rochelle Fire Department Chairman of the Westchester County WMD Planning Committee

Assembly Response:

  • Require the Office of Public Security to consult with local First Responders in providing emer gency equipment to ensure that such equipment is provided in a timely manner and meets local needs.
  • Establish a centralized grant office in order to provide one-stop grant information to munici palities.
  • Establish a low-interest New York State Disaster Preparedness Revolving Loan Fund with priority given to municipalities which share resources.

Access to Training

Adequate access to training is essential in protecting the lives of New York’s First Responders and the communities that they serve. When the next emergency occurs, whether it is natural or man-made, First Responders will answer the call of the bell.

At the hearing, First Responders expressed concerns about the availability and proximity of required training and an increasing administrative burden.

  • “The reason why we’re not on scene giving you the anecdote in a timely fashion is for the lack of eight hours of training. We are trained to the hazardous materials awareness level.... We are trained right now to don our escape hoods or our gas masks and leave. That’s not an emergency response, that’s running away. And if you’re the person who’s exposed to this toxin, the last thing you want to see is me heading off into the sunset with my 200 antidote kits on every single ambulance. What good are they if we can’t get them to you?”

    Patrick J. Bahnken, President, Uniformed EMTs and Paramedics of FDNY

  • “The challenge now is to institutionalize this training (hazardous material, weapons of mass destruction) and assure that regular, accessible training is available.”

    Michael Mastrianni, Jr., President, New York State Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Association, Inc.

  • “As a nation, we would not send our army off to fight a war on terrorism unarmed and under manned, yet this is exactly what has happened to the paid professional fire service.”

    John Black, Counsel, New York State Professional Fire Fighter Association

  • “With regard to equipment, our studies have shown that only twenty-three percent of providers feel they have the necessary equipment required to respond to acts of terrorism. What’s interesting is that only forty percent of them have the equipment necessary for decontamination, and only thirty percent have comprehensive equipment to respond to chemical terrorism. Less than half have received training on its use, and less than one half of one percent ever received any equipment that would allow them to properly care for children exposed to any event. The data reinforced my concern that First Responders do not have the equipment they need to respond.”

    David Markenson, M.D., Mailman School of Public Health, National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Columbia University.

Assembly Response:

  • The Department of Health would be directed to establish a hazardous materials training program for emergency medical services technicians (EMT’s).
  • EMT’s would be authorized to complete some of their recertification training requirements by computer or video, making more efficient use of their time.
  • A state income tax credit would be created for volunteer firefighters or EMT’s who take the State’s hazardous materials training course or similar disaster preparedness courses.
  • EMT’s who leave New York and then return currently must be fully recertified. An expedited process for such EMT’s would be created, reflecting their prior training and experience.
  • Paper submissions required from EMT providers by the Department of Health would also be authorized to be made electronically, easing this filing requirement.

Text of Assembly resolution urging more homeland security funding
passed April 19, 2004

LEGISLATIVE RESOLUTION urging Governor George E. Pataki and the New York State Congressional Delegation to effectuate a threat-based formula for the allocation of federal homeland security funds to the States and localities of the nation

WHEREAS, New York State was one of the prime targets of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States of America and was also the target of a terrorist attack in 1993; and

WHEREAS, Approximately 2,800 victims were killed by the September 11, 2001, attacks on Lower Manhattan; and

WHEREAS, New York is still considered the highest level terrorism target in the United States; and

WHEREAS, Federal funding is critical in helping New York State, its communities and emergency first responders to plan, prepare for, respond to and mitigate future emergencies and disasters; and

WHEREAS, In federal fiscal year 2003, New York State, the third-largest State of the nation and one of the targets on September 11, 2001, received only $5.09 per person from the federal State Homeland Security Grant program, compared, for example, to the State of Wyoming, which received $35.67 per person; and

WHEREAS, Important factors, such as population density, potential targets, and threat levels are not adequately being taken into consideration in the current formula for the allocation of these funds; and

WHEREAS, Despite being one of the likeliest terrorist targets, New York State ranked second from last in 2003 Office of Domestic Preparedness Homeland Security Grants; and

WHEREAS, New York State ranked 40th in per capita allocation from the Urban Security Grant program even though New York City is arguably the nation’s most at-risk city; and

WHEREAS, The federal program established pursuant to the Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement Act has imposed an arbitrary cap on awards, penalizing New York’s municipal preparedness efforts; and

WHEREAS, The members of this Assembled Body are deeply concerned that federal homeland security grant program funding does not adequately match the terror threat level of each State; and

WHEREAS, New York’s Congressional Delegation has been actively seeking, on a bipartisan basis, additional threat-based funding for New York and a fair allocation of homeland security funding; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That this Legislative Body pause in its deliberations to urge the Governor to pursue a federal threat-based formula for allocating federal homeland security grants and to work, in a bipartisan spirit, with the State’s Congressional Delegation to obtain a fair allocation of federal homeland security funding; and be it further

RESOLVED, That copies of this Resolution, suitably engrossed, be transmitted to The Honorable George E. Pataki, Governor of the State of New York, the President of the United States, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate, and to each member of the New York Congressional Delegation.

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