By STEVE LENOX
June 22, 2021
PATERSON, NJ – When two local teens fell through ice on the Passaic River in 2016, members of the Paterson Fire Department were there quickly to save their lives. The rescue, Paterson Fire Chief Brian McDermott said Monday, might not have been possible except for several factors, all made possible by the legislative work of Congressman Bill Pascrell.
During a celebration to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Pascrell’s landmark bill that brought the Assistance for Firefighters Grant (AFG) into existence, McDermott reflected that it was dollars from that program, as well as a following one to increase staffing and a third for firehouse construction, that saved those lives. If not for the grants, he reflected, the fire headquarters, which now bears Pascrell’s name, might not have been built, the training the rescuers put into action might not have happened, and the firefighters themselves might never have been hired.
Since 2001 more than $9.25 billion in grants have been awarded to local fire departments nationally through the AFG program, including $198,500,000 in grants to New Jersey fire departments and $21,835,514 in grants to fire departments in New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District, and more than $15.7 million directly to Paterson.
Pascrell was quick to turn the attention off himself and give credit to former Passaic Fire Chief Lou Imparato, whom he referred to as “a fireman’s fireman,” for his assistance in not only conceiving the bill, one then President Bill Clinton said would never get the bipartisan support needed to win its approval, but also for helping to push it by bringing all groups- chiefs, unions, paid departments, and volunteer departments together.
Others in attendance, however, including Eddie Donnelly, President of the NJFMBA, the union that represents more than 5,000 career firefighters, EMTs, and dispatchers across the state, wanted Pascrell to know just how much his efforts meant to them.
“Our members in Passaic and Paterson were proud to push aggressively for this legislation more than two decades ago, but it was Congressman Bill Pascrell that took the mantle as our champion in Washington, D.C.,” Donnelly said. “What Bill Pascrell accomplished, and continues to accomplish, on behalf of firefighters is something that has saved lives not just up and down the Garden State Parkway, from the East Coast to the West Coast.”
Even with that early victory, Pascrell’s support for firefighters in Paterson and beyond didn’t stop with the AFG grants. In 2005, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program became law and has since brought more than $5 billion to fire departments nationally, including more than $17 million to Paterson, to hire, recruit, and retain firefighters.
This support for the city he has called home all his life isn’t lost on Frank Lozada or Mike Walker, the presidents of FMBA Locals 2 and 202. “At a time when it is so easy to be disillusioned with government and politics it is reassuring for firefighters to know that Bill Pascrell always has been, and always will be, in the corner of first responders,” Lozada said, with Walker adding that “instead of wearing pride on his sleeve it would be fitting if Congressman Pascrell wore a fire department patch, as no one has done more in Washington, D.C. to keep our residents safe than he has.”
While Pascrell’s efforts, several in attendance said Monday, have already given him a place as a legislative legend among first responders, the venerable statesman is not done yet, he assured.
“Too many firehouses around our nation and our state are long overdue for upgrades,” Pascrell lamented, “So, I just introduced the bipartisan Fire Station Construction Grants Act” authorizing $1 billion in new grants to rebuild and improve our fire infrastructure. “These critical upgrades will save lives in the fire service and the communities they serve. We are going to try to get this money into the infrastructure package.”
“Last week I heard Bill Pascrell say ‘we’re Patersonians, we get things done,’ and was struck immediately by the audaciousness of the comment,” Mayor Andre Sayegh said. “As we stand together today and celebrate his amazing legislative achievement, one that has saved countless lives, I offer my thanks to our fighter and say simply, he’s Bill Pascrell, he gets things done.”
Original article can be found here.