Reality Check: California Congressman Explains How First Responder Budget Cuts Cost Lives

Firefighters in the city of Alameda, CA outside of San Francisco were forced to watch a man drown today due to a policy tied to recent budget cuts. First responders and more than 75 onlookers watched as the man committed suicide, drowning himself over the course of an hour in the San Francisco Bay. First responders were called to the scene. But according to interim Alameda Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi, his crews “did not have the training or cold-water gear to go into the water” because of 2009 budget cuts.

While this is a dramatic example of the impact of local budget cuts, it serves as a perfect illustration of the problems Republican budget cuts pose to first responders. This tragedy comes on the heels of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee’s approval of a Republican proposal from last month “to slash funding for first responders by more than $1 billion.” This “included significant cuts to the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) and Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE Act) grant programs,” as well as “slashed funding for nearly every first responder grant program, including the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) and State Homeland Security (SHSGP) grants” by over 50 percent.

Speaking to ThinkProgress, California Congressman Xavier Becerra (D) said the drowning is “a perfect example of why you have to always be prepared.” Firefighters are trained to save people and are “paid to do it. That is why they are the people we respect,” he said, adding, “The Republicans are being extremely reckless in depriving us of the personnel we need to do the work for America”:

BECERRA: You just raised a perfect example of why you have to always be prepared … a firefighter is trained to do that, in fact paid to do that and that is why they are the people we respect and put at a higher standard. I just went to a school about a month or two ago — about six weeks ago — where the principal said to me in a very small elementary school that he had to issue 12 pink slips to 12 of his teachers for the following school year, not knowing if he would be able to hire them back. The same [principal] told me that in the previous year in 2009, he had to do the same thing, but because of the Economic Recovery Act that we passed in 2009, he was actually able to retract some of those pink slips and keep some of those teachers around.

So whether it’s the firefighter who wasn’t around to save that individual who jumped into the water or the teachers who are not around to teach our kids, we need them. The Republicans are being extremely reckless in depriving us of the personnel we need to do the work for America, but it’s going to shortchange our kids for the future.

Watch it:

Such recklessness certainly has precedent. As ThinkProgress’s Zaid Jilani reported, two children in Philadelphia died this year in a fire while the closest fire station was temporarily closed due to the city’s budget issues. As Congress debates potential budget cuts during negotiations to raise the debt ceiling, it is important they protect the services essential to American safety.

Sean Savett