Berry said $30 million will be distributed in Arkansas through Homeland Security which can be used for training, equipment and protection of strategic and high priority locations. He emphasized it is critical for counties to prepare and submit their emergency management plans.
Emergency Management Coordinator Albert Roork said he has been busy working on the plan. He said the Salem Fire Department has 10 firemen trained at technician level and another eight at operations level for the HAZMAT team.
Morriston Fire Chief Scott Holloway asked Berry what the chances are of larger municipalities receiving more money than rural communities. Berry responded by saying, "Those guys usually come out pretty good."
Berry's tour, which began in February, will take him to every county in the 1st Congressional District to meet with firefighters and other first responders to discuss the need for more federal funding for local public safety agencies.
"The courageous men and women who serve in local communities to protect our health and well being have been neglected for too long. They put their lives on the line 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to safeguard our communities. We owe it to them to give them the training and equipment they need to do their heroic duty as safely and effectively as possible," Berry said.
Berry said the time and resources of many first responders were stretched even further when the color-coded terrorist threat index was raised to orange (high) earlier this year. He expressed frustration with the Bush Administration for repeatedly vowing to increase funding for first responders but consistently thwarting efforts to do so. Berry criticized Republican legislators for following the White House's lead and voting down Democratic legislation to boost federal funding for first responders.
Berry said Republicans recently voted down a Democratic proposal to increase funding for first responders by $300 million, including nearly $4 million for Arkansas.
Those who attended the meeting received a copy of a guide for federal first responder grants which included detailed information about federal funds available and how to apply for the grants. Berry, who serves on the Homeland Security subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, promised to use his seat on the panel to steer badly needed funds for first responders to Arkansas.
Berry outlined a list of federal assistance programs that are focused on Homeland Security. The assistance comes in the form of training, technical assistance and monetary grants. The programs are separated into six categories: emergency management and planning; training; equipment; law enforcement; public health and medical community; and community preparedness.
Fulton County Judge Curren Everett encouraged everyone to attend the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management meetings. Everett said it is easy for small counties to get left out when grant money is being distributed.