Homeland Security Pork

This article is a perfect illustrating of the wasteful, pork-barrel, political spending that we like to call "homeland security." And to think we could actually be spending this money on something useful.

When the fire department in the tiny Berkshire hamlet of Cheshire needed a new fire truck, it asked Uncle Sam for a little help.

The response last month was stunning: a $665,962 homeland security grant.

The award was nearly 26 times the annual budget of the volunteer fire department in the town of 3,500. And the rub: The department is not allowed to spend it on a fire truck.

[...]

The town does have the Cheshire Cheese Monument, a sizable concrete sculpture of a cheese press commemorating a 1,450-pound cheese hunk given by town elders to Thomas Jefferson in 1801. But its value as a terrorist target is not readily apparent.

[...]

...Sweet said he might use some of the money to recruit high school students. Or he might put some of the windfall into a marketing campaign to lure volunteers to Cheshire.

"It'll be on billboards, TVs, and radio stations, and that kind of stuff," he said. "We'll have to spend it wisely."

How many times is this story being repeated across the country? I'm sure the town needs its fire truck, and I hope it gets it. But this is just appalling.

Posted on February 12, 2007 at 6:20 AM • 36 Comments

Comments

Another KevinFebruary 12, 2007 7:44 AM

Well, let's see. The money is for recruiting new volunteers. What better way for the good burghers of Cheshire to make volunteering attractive than to promise prospects a brand new, shiny, red fire engine? I mean, really, where is their imagination?

Alternatively, you could write to the Wisconsin congresscritters and tell them that Uncle Sam is supporting Massachusetts cheese. That'll surely get action!

Let it be said, though, that the town did ask for a money to support its volunteer force as well as to buy the fire truck. Perhaps this is the first of two grants, or it won one and lost the other?

In any case, in the grand scheme of security theatre, this isn't all that bad. I can't think of a much better way to improve our real security than to fund front-line emergency responders. Putting out fires is almost always useful. Despite the fact that the article's author obviously has an axe to grind, if the government is dispensing pork, fire brigades are a pretty innocuous barrel.

AlexFebruary 12, 2007 8:00 AM

"this isn't all that bad" Kevin?
They needed $175.000 for a new truck to ferry medical equipment to fires and got $665,962 they are not allowed to spend on that truck. This must be the work of some mindless bureaucrat ... or perhaps terrorists have infiltrated the DHS and are deliberatley undermining irst response capacity?

Juhana SirenFebruary 12, 2007 8:01 AM

One would presume that fire trucks would be a part of overall security... otherwise you're going by a very narrow definition of "security"...

Juhana SirenFebruary 12, 2007 8:13 AM

@Another Kevin: considering government idiocy all over the world, most likely they have lost the grant to buy a fire truck and won the one to recruit volunteers. If they show innovation by using some of the money to buy a fire truck to recruit volunteers, they're probably in trouble for using grant money for something it's not allowed to be spent.

RoyFebruary 12, 2007 8:15 AM

Simple. Hold a raffle to buy the needed fire truck and use the money to buy the tickets -- ALL the tickets.

derfFebruary 12, 2007 9:00 AM

Tax dollars at work.

Can't wait to see how well these mental giant bureaucrats deal with health-care.

You need a heart transplant? Denied. How about some chemotherapy instead?

yoshiFebruary 12, 2007 9:47 AM


Lets ignore the wasteful allocation of our federal tax dollars for a moment and ask a simpler question:

Why is this tiny Berkshire hamlet of Cheshire asking the -Federal Government- for money for a new truck?


Anon-31February 12, 2007 10:02 AM

Regardless of if the money should go to them or if they will spend it wisely why did DHS give them 26 times their annual budget? If the dept has worked in the past (and we can assume it has otherwise the hamlet would have burned down) then DHS just funded them for the next 26 years.

That's a big leap of faith on the part of DHS. I mean is this hamlet even going to be around in 26 years? Probably not without a fire truck.

Hieronymous CowherdFebruary 12, 2007 10:07 AM

Perhaps they didn't get the fire truck because they already have 7 trucks for a population of 3,500. (500 people per truck). The part of London I live in has 12 engines for 350,000 people, or just shy of 30,000 people per truck.

Unless that cheese is particularly flammable I think they're well covered.

I did like the quote in the actual story about the fact that the local council weren't too happy to have all that money because if they didn't account for it properly they'd go to prison. Perhaps they should just ship the cash to Iraq.

KenFebruary 12, 2007 10:17 AM

Wait a tick - they asked for two grants, one for a fire truck (which was denied), and one for money to recruit new members (approved in spades). First off, why is the federal government buying fire trucks for smalltowns? This particular town has many, and wanted to buy/refurbish it's existing medical truck - they don't NEED the truck, and that is why the request was denied. Haven't they ever heard of a fund-raiser? Second, why is the government funding recruitment budgets for small town fire departments? Isn't there sufficient civic pride in this "hamlet" to staff the department better? The only serious question NOT ANSWERED by the original article was how the $655K number was arrived at by the federal government - my money is on a slipped decimal point in the approval, but no one seems to have investigated that possibility...

AndrewFebruary 12, 2007 10:18 AM

Fire trucks wear out, especially in heavy use. They haven't gotten rid of their old trucks because they might need them . . . and it really sucks when the truck you're responding in dies on the road.

Personally, I would take a slightly different tack. As a volunteer incentive, allow volunteers in good standing with the department to drive bright shiny new marked F-350 heavy pickup trucks. (About $75,000 each.) For convenience add first-attack gear, a 1" hose line and pump, and a nice trailer hitch to each one. Put in lots of cabinets so that the duty firefighter(s) can carry the BLS and extrication gear on their issue truck. Duplicate the BLS gear (which is not hard, most of what you need can be purchased at http://www.galls.com/) This solves the gear transport problem.

Then buy two trailers for training. One training trailer to carry a nice gasoline-powered pump and suction hose and attack hose . . . another training trailer to carry rescue and extrication equipment and ladders. Call them "Training Trailer Engine 1" and "Training Trailer Truck 2."

It's all about imagination, which is fortunately enough not a scarce resource outside the halls of government.

DavidFebruary 12, 2007 10:48 AM

This would be a great opportunity for a fire equipment manufacturer to step up to the plate....

I'm sure they could think of something :)

JimFebruary 12, 2007 11:37 AM

This is at officer.com
"While long known to scrutinize air travelers, the Department of Homeland Security is seeking to apply new technology to perform similar checks on people who enter or leave the country "by automobile or on foot," the notice said.

The department intends to use a program called the Automated Targeting System, originally designed to screen shipping cargo, to store and analyze the data."

Automated Targeting System sounds like a people as cattle approach. You never know where the next fire will be regardless of the technology you have. All you can do is have a fire truck handy.

JimFebruary 12, 2007 11:41 AM

"Simple. Hold a raffle to buy the needed fire truck and use the money to buy the tickets -- ALL the tickets." Sounds Irish!


C GomezFebruary 12, 2007 12:36 PM

The federal government is too hopelessly out of touch with local issues to effectively spend money on them. Control and tax dollars need to be transferred to local control, where citizens can actually have a voice in what to do with the money.

This is not an issue that can ever be fixed. No bureaucracy that size can ever function on local scale issues. The system is completely backwards. Yet, we continue to think federally instead of federalist.

JohnFebruary 12, 2007 1:19 PM

Several states have already demonstrated their interest in medical marijuana LEGALLY for people who need it, yet this still remains illegal at a federal level.

Marijuana being illegal is only supporting drug dealers and terrorists like booze being illegal was funding criminals like Al Capone.

Maybe one day people will understand that this country was founded for the people, not an organization or two to be above them and apart from them.

JackFebruary 12, 2007 1:22 PM

It's interesting (and bothersome to me) that the option of just not accepting all or part of the money never seems to be an option.

bitmongerFebruary 12, 2007 2:08 PM


Its not a fire truck.
Its the Freedom Incinerary Response Engine.
Capable of handling bombs fires and chemical fires. Holding a thousand gallons of liquid water for suppression of fires and hazards. Chemical and heat resistant suits. Oxygen tanks.

Plus $10,000 of heavy plastic and duct tape in the trunk.

Perm DudeFebruary 12, 2007 3:12 PM

Well, its about time the federal government is giving tax money back to the communities...

jackFebruary 12, 2007 3:34 PM

bitmounger
better yet have the Freedom Engine carry dihydrous oxide, also known as hydrolic acid. DHO is a superior fire suppressant and as a universal solvent DHO is the overwhelming choice of first responders to many chemical spills

Jack

ToddFebruary 12, 2007 4:53 PM

Yoshi-the town asked for grant money under the SAFER program. This is one of the few good programs to come out of the federal government post 9/11. All requests are reviewed by fellow firefighters from around the county and the award is based on their go/no-go decision. The dollar amount arrived at could have been decided by a variety of methods, one of which includes the state allocating grant funds based on a pre-determined formula. I agree it's overkill, but money for volunteer fire departements is NEVER a bad thing.

BrianFebruary 12, 2007 5:12 PM

SNAFU - the government machine in full swing.

There are loads of possibilities, such as:

Why not buy two fire trucks worth of parts and get civil defense training classes set up in firetruck maintenance?

Swap two fire trucks worth of parts with a large fire service than can easily use them etc etc.

Devolution is the only way to go.

Andrew KFebruary 12, 2007 8:19 PM

What not being reported here is that the Dept of Homeland Security DOES in fact have a grant program for fire response vehicles. It's one of two priorities under the Assistance to Firefighter's grant program.

The idiots at this fire department applied for money from the wrong program.

The DHS isn't to blame on this one, except they didn't look at what a ridiculous amount $600,000+ is for this small time town.

Another KevinFebruary 12, 2007 8:31 PM

OK, OK, this is somewhat mismanaged, I concede. But the town did ask for money to support volunteer efforts as well as for the new truck. I don't know why one was approved and the other denied, much less why the request that was approved got so much more money. At worst, this is micromanagement And even so, surely spending money on the fire brigades will yield more in real security than spending it on ID-card boondoggles, searching grannies at airports, denying the freedom to travel to anyone named Nelson, or drift-net wiretapping. I was writing from that perspective when I said that in the grand scheme of security theatre, this doesn't look that bad.

Besides, this is payback for putting the senior senator from Massachusetts on the No-Fly List.

JenniferFebruary 12, 2007 10:24 PM

Here is a link to a local paper with a little more information:
http://www.thetranscript.com/fastsearch/...

According to this, the grant writer got a little over enthusiastic (without the knowledge of the select board). He also now wants to be the grant administrator.

The Berkshire Eagle might have something more also, but I didn't search there very much.

ChrisFebruary 12, 2007 11:06 PM

Some commenters have been asking why DHS is giving money to local fire departments. The answer is that they've been doing it for years, even before DHS existed.

I'm a lieutenant in a VFD in Long Island, and I've been writing these grants -- first to FEMA, and then to its new parent -- for years. They earmarked the money for fire departments (volunteer and career) a long time ago, because, as another poster wrote, we are the First Responders to any major event. And I don't want to sound like some kind of reactionary Bush fan (because I'm not), but we simply don't know what the terrorists' targets will be. Maybe that monument in Cheshire will actually be a target -- if Barack Obama decides to campaign there, for instance.

Anyway, there are 3 or 4 grant categories, and each department gets to write for one per year. Last year our congresswoman inspired us to write for one category in particular because it was underrepresented the previous year, and FEMA/DHS had a hard time granting all the money to deserving candidates. One of those categories is vehicles; another is community education/outreach, and I forget now what the others are.

Don't blame DHS for giving the money away, because it was decided long ago that they would. And don't blame the fire department for asking for recruitment money. Recruitment is a huge issue for every VFD; our numbers are down from 5 years ago, way down from 10 years ago, etc.

I normally think the same way Bruce does in most of these posts, but fire departments are underfunded, and supporting them *is* supporting homeland security.

anonFebruary 13, 2007 1:12 PM


@yoshi
Lets ignore the wasteful allocation of our federal tax dollars for a moment and ask a simpler question:

Why is this tiny Berkshire hamlet of Cheshire asking the -Federal Government- for money for a new truck?

Beceuase Firefighters are members of home-land security.

Matt from CTFebruary 13, 2007 10:53 PM

I am a long time volunteer FF & ex-Captain / Fire Training Officer.

There has long been several relatively modest federal programs for local fire departments.

For many years we would apply and get every-other-year about a $1,000 through the Department of Agriculture / Forest Service -- sometimes for hand tools, sometimes for training materials (videos, books, etc).

There where the occassional good grant applications to Rural Community Development or Small Cities that might chip in for a purchase in the $5-10k range.

Late 1990s and especially after 2001 the Fire ACT & SAFER came into the radar screen. And that's not grease drippings but unadulterated pork.

There is certainly some legitimate areas to focus spending on to improve response capabilities to a major attack. Additional decontamination capabilities for departments around major cities; improved heavy rescue / urban search & rescue capabilities...again clustered around the major cities. Not necessarily IN the city -- the suburbs around them would be needed to respond into them.

Among a number of grants my department received was $250,000 for a 3000 gallon tanker. Built on a premium chassis (Mack) by a top tier builder -- not low bid by any means. A few years earlier the Town had bought a $500k ladder truck -- while we're the poorest part of Connecticut, being the poorest part of the richest state still ain't much to complain about these days.

I live in a very contentious Congressional District -- this time around the Republican lost by under 200 votes. During his campaign he made a point that every-single-town in his district (60-something) had received major Federal grants for firefighting.

I'm really not sure you could find a better example of local-oriented pork.

It's not that we set a national goal to improve response capability to realistic attack scenarios.

It's not that we set a national goal that every populated area in the nation would be brought up to a minimum level of equipment in quality and quantity.

What happened was we through onto the Federal Deficit billions of dollars that where distributed all over the map for all sorts of things. Most of that had absolutely zilch to do with national interests other then giving Congressmen good press coverage. Most of the awards simply amounted to local communities "hitting the lottery" when the pork barrel stopped spinning and pointed to them.

===========================
Then you have the actual DHS spending. In Connecticut, a State Trooper (Governor's Driver) was assigned to order stuff initially.

Our store room is full of stuff like haz-mat suits for a level we're not trained to use (we already had protective suits appropriate for our training level); a couple hazardous gas meters costing several thousand dollars each we're not trained to use (we already had three from another manufacturer we're trained on and have the tools to calibrate); and Respirators that weren't compatible with the masks on our existing airpacks -- which to legally use (and to be certain they'd function properly god forbid stuff actually hit the fan), we'd have to pay for additional "fit testing" annually on our members (the manufacturer of our existing masks offered an adapter that would've done the same job with no additional time or cost needed for repetitive testing).

So the stuff sits, so we can show it if we're audited. And it will all dry rot there and in 20 years someone will be throwing that stuff out like I threw out a bunch of old, decrepit stuff stamped with "CD" triangles when I was a young buck.

JeffFebruary 14, 2007 2:21 PM

Why do you think undergraduate/graduate programs in "homeland security" have rapidly sprung to life in the last 6 years? There's blood in the water and scams at every turn. It all stinks to high-heaven. "Terrorism" is the new "communism" or "nazism" or "socialism" used as a device to steer and control.

T. from GermanyFebruary 16, 2007 3:41 AM

@Matt from CT (or anyone else),

might sound like a stupid question, but what did the CD stand for?

T.

Alter FurzFebruary 18, 2007 2:49 PM

'CD' was 'Civil Defense', a panic-inducing agency from the 60's, which fed thousands of generations of mice and roaches by putting countless tons of saltines and mealy-tasting ersatz-chocolate bars in the cellars of public buildings. And teaching paranoid school kids like me to 'duck and cover' when the nuclear blast is seen. A reign of fear which the current American Taliban that run the government can only envy.

CoreyMarch 3, 2007 9:10 AM

Big Grant is Big Pain for Small Minds


To the editor. I am a firefighter/EMT for the Cheshire Volunteer Fire Department
and a Captain Firefighter/EMT for the Savoy Volunteer Fire Department and I have
been involved in the SAFER grant from the beginning. To start I would like to
share with you my goals when I initiated acquiring this grant. Due to the
problems fire departments face with volunteerism (on-call 24/7, extensive
training,etc. ) without any benefits except the service to the community, we
have a problem recruiting new members. How do we attract new members? How do
we keep the valuable members we have? Answer...SAFER grant. On Feb. 7th you
wrote an article "Big grant is big pain for small town", I would like to thank
you for your unbiased titling of this article. This is what inspired my
correspondence that I am entitling, "Big grant is big pain for small minds". I
am in awe that after all the articles and time the Transcript and the Cheshire
Selectman have put into this, they still have failed to capture the truth and
scope of this grant. This grant is not about billboards and coordinators fees,
it is much more than that and it is shameful that both a reputable newspaper and
the representatives of an entire town can not inform the public and explore the
opportunities that this grant holds fully before putting it to biased scrutiny.
On Feb 8th, you published an article, "Cheshire hopes dim for second
firefighting grant", in which you quoted Selectman Chairwoman Carol Fransesconi
as saying, "At the end of the four years, the firemen are not going to have any
visible equipment. They're not going to have a truck, they're not going to have
Scott Air Paks. What they're going to have is possibly more firefighters and
possible education for people wanting to study fire science in college". I see
the point, apparently education is not considered an asset or benefit anymore.
Let's discuss the scope of the Cheshire-Savoy SAFER grant. The grant consists
of 10 categories. 1) Marketing 2) Staffing needs 3) Production & Web Creation 4)
Loss of Wages 5) Travel for training 6) Entry Level Physical Examinations 7)
College Tuition Program 8) Junior in-school Program 9) Uniform Incentive Program
10) Coordinators Fees. The visible equipment the two departments will receive
are as follows: a laptop computer for each department; an LCD projector for each
department both to use for fire prevention and the education programs; a
"Freddie The Fire Truck" robot for each department to assist in a much needed
public safety outreach and fire prevention program; software for training
current members, junior firefighters, our senior citizens, and the children of
the community; Class A, Class B, uniforms (head to toe) and winter jackets for
every member. The grant also allows each town to give a scholarship of
$9,000/year for the next 4 years to a graduating junior firefighter to use in a
study of their choice, not necessarily fire science, like you've been told. The
grant also covers loss of wages for any member due to training or continuing
education. With rise in gas prices, mileage is also covered when responding to
community emergencies. So what do we have? A highly trained, highly educated
firefighter involved in public safety and fire prevention, dressed in a nice
uniform and get this, a VOLUNTEER that is supported by its community. These are
the people I want to enter a burning building with, trained and educated. Being
a husband and a father of four, I need to return home from every call, so please
tell me that I and my fellow firefighters deserve this. The current practicing
theory that the Cheshire Selectman have of "sign here, congratulations your a
firefighter" does not work, it is dangerous and should not be permitted or
accepted by the community. In addition, to an educated fire department, the
town has overlooked that we will have a more educated, safer community from the
level of our children to our seniors. It would be naive to continue to think
that because we are a rural area we can ignore the need to develop our skills
and knowledge to meet the possible hazards that face all towns in this day and
age. Last but not least, I would like to address the unprofessional comments of
Selectman Paul Astorino. Throughout this grant process he has been both
pessimistic and condescending toward the fire department, the hired grant
writer, the fire chiefs, and the idea of creating a better department. I do
agree we need to explore completely the demands to the town, if any, and the
benefits to the town and the opportunity it may open for future grants when the
town demonstrates its ability to unify and utilize this grant to its full
potential. Last week he "quoted" words from Senator Kerry's office that were
inaccurate. If you want to see the town lose its chances for future grants,
allow this continued misinformation and public banter to replace true
cooperation and exploration for a common goal. Mr. Astorino also stated that
"we cannot run fast and loose with a say so" but in his next breath he does so
with his unsubstantiated words regarding Senator Kerry's office this past week.
Grants are presented to departments that show the need for that grant. In the
Cheshire Fire Deparment our need for air paks is high and our need for an EMS
truck is extremely high but that doesn't mean our need for firefighters to wear
the air paks or the EMT's to respond for medical calls isn't also high. A
department that shows a need for air paks and an EMS truck as its only need, is
a stagnant, short-sighted, and unprepared department. Every department should
be applying for every grant that it is eligible for every year. My goal: A
unified fire department that is highly trained in all aspects of public safety,
(fire prevention,EMS,haz-mat,fire suppression,community service) that is
supported by its town and its officials, as our goals are one in the same the
safety of our community and as we are willing to leave our families and put our
lives on the line for this same community.


Corey McGrath

CoreyMarch 3, 2007 9:28 AM

Who is this Andrew K.? obviously not a firefighter. Firefighters do not call other firefighters or departments "idiots". If you are, shame on you..We did not apply for the wrong grant. We applied for a medical truck through AFG, funding through SAFER for R&R, and much needed fire prevention tools from the FP&S grant. Do your homework, then give your opinion.

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