Mr. President, every year in the United States, over one million firefighters working with approximately thirty thousand fire departments risk their lives to protect our Nation. Nearly seventy-five percent of those firefighters are volunteers; they put their lives on the line and get almost nothing in return. Volunteer and paid firefighters alike are often forgotten until tragedy strikes and they valiantly come to the rescue. I think that it is regrettable that many of us fail to recognize the sacrifice these brave men and women make every day.
Therefore, today I submit a resolution to establish the first annual National Firefighter Appreciation Day on October 10, 2006.
National Firefighter Appreciation Day will be a day for all Americans to take time to appreciate the firefighters in their communities. National Firefighter Appreciation Day will fall on the second Tuesday in October, during Fire Prevention Week, which has been held over the week of October ninth since 1922. I seek to have this day annually celebrated on the second Tuesday in October for many years to come.
Firefighters are often the first responders at the scene of a disaster. Their rigorous training and determination equip them to put out fires , provide first aid, and stabilize volatile situations. In their long shifts at the fire station, these strong men and women are prepared for disaster, large or small.
Firefighters also provide life safety education, installing fire alarms and distributing information on fire prevention, working to prevent disasters before they occur. One notable time that firefighters and fire marshals engage with the community is when they educate children about ways to prevent fires during Fire Prevention Week. Now, these children will have a reminder on National Firefighter Appreciation Day to stop and thank the firefighters who protect them when the blazes get out of control.
In my State of Oklahoma we know the pain of dealing with loss from a terrorist attack and the importance of firefighters in the aftermath. In 1995, when Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, 168 people lost their lives. Firefighters and everyday citizens bravely responded to this horrendous act. They accomplished the task of bringing out all victims from the building without loss of life or significant injury to the firefighters and rescue personnel. According to Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum, seventy-five fire departments across Oklahoma participated in the rescue recovery for fifteen days and fifteen hours. In addition, seven states were represented with the FEMA emergency personnel that aided in recovery. Sadly, ten of the firefighters that came to help were from New York City and later died honorably in the September 11th attacks. The entire world watched while every available resource of the city, state, and federal government was mobilized to respond to the attack at the Murrah building.
Most of us are aware of firefighters' efforts in such major disasters. However, we often do not hear about their seemingly smaller acts of heroism. For example, two years ago firefighters in Oklahoma City dove into an ice covered lake to save an eight-year-old boy who had fallen through the ice. The boy had been treading water and holding onto the ice on the edge of the pond for 15 minutes before he was saved by the firefighters. Had he not been rescued by those men, this young boy would have probably died.
In a similar incident a few years before, firefighters responded to a sighting of two young brothers swept downstream in the waterway in Oklahoma City. The rescuers had to take into account a number of factors, including a very rapid current and the physical condition of the boys, to rescue them from the water. Everyday, firefighters protect the public and save lives.
Probably the most notable firefighter response of our time occurred in New York City after the September 11th terrorist attacks. In the midst of a tragic situation, New York City firefighters rushed into the World Trade Center buildings to rescue those left inside. When the buildings collapsed, they worked day and night to search for people in the rubble. In the end, 346 firefighters and emergency personnel lost their lives.
The heroism and bravery shown by the firefighters and rescue workers in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks led Connor Gehraty, the son of a New York City firefighter who perished in the rescue efforts after September 11th, to circulate via e-mail the idea of establishing a day to honor firefighters.
Connor has noted that there is substantial remembrance of events such as the Oklahoma City bombing and 9-11. Connor emphasizes that firefighters deserve their own distinct day to be honored for the full panoply of their service. I agree.
Connor has worked diligently for five years to try to accomplish his goal. My office was able to get in touch with him using Facebook, a networking website, and inform him of the plans to make his idea a reality with this resolution. He is very supportive of this legislation.
The Oklahoma State Firefighters Association was also helpful with suggestions in the drafting of this legislation. The Oklahoma State Firefighters Association (OSFA) has 14,000 members consisting of paid (union and non-union), volunteer, and retired firefighters. In addition to providing support, services, and events for firefighters in Oklahoma, the OSFA oversees the Oklahoma Firefighters Museum and the Oklahoma Fallen and Living Firefighters Memorial. I am pleased with the dedication of this organization and the positive role it plays in the lives of Oklahoma's firefighters. I appreciate their suggestions and support of this resolution.
The OSFA is one of many organizations of firefighters in Oklahoma and around the country that impress me. Just last week, a group of fire marshals came all the way up from Oklahoma to visit my DC office. That visit spurred me to move forward with this resolution.
I pledge to ensure that as we celebrate the first annual National Firefighter Appreciation Day and many more in years to come, the hardworking and courageous individuals that make up groups such as these will be honored in a distinct way that is long overdue.
In light of the heroism and inspirational example of firefighters, please join me in naming the second Tuesday of October National Firefighter Appreciation Day.