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Politics - Reuters
Firefighters Vote to Boycott Bush Sept. 11 Tribute Wed Aug 14, 9:28 PM ET

By Steve Friess

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - The International Association of Fire Fighters voted unanimously on Wednesday to boycott a national tribute to firefighters who died on Sept. 11, in an angry response to U.S. President George Bush's rejection of a bill that included $340 million to fund fire departments.


Bush is expected to speak at the Oct. 6 ceremony in Washington D.C., where the National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation is hosting its annual tribute to those who died in the line of duty during the prior year.

The ceremony will honor 343 firefighters who died responding to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, as well as about 100 others who also died in the year.

The IAFF, the umbrella organization for the nation's professional firefighter unions, is enraged by the president's rejection of a $5.1 billion appropriations bill that included $150 million for equipment and training grants requested by some of the nation's 18,000 fire departments.

It also include $100 million to improve the communications systems for firefighters, police officers and other emergency personnel as well as $90 million for long-term health monitoring of emergency workers at the Ground Zero site where New York's World Trade Center towers once stood.

Firefighters and survivors will be urged to skip the Oct. 6 event in protest, said R. Michael Mohler of the Virginia Professional Fire Fighters Local 774.

Mohler made the boycott motion before about 2,000 union leaders convening in Las Vegas for the IAFF's first national conference since Sept. 11.

"The president has merely been using firefighters and their families for one big photo opportunity," Mohler said. "We will work actively to not grant him another photo op with us."


Bush said Tuesday the bill was bloated by less important projects and a White House spokeswoman said Bush remained committed to firefighters and other emergency groups.

"The president is committed to our nation's first responders," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan, traveling with Bush in Des Moines, Iowa, said.

The firefighters' boycott vote followed anti-Bush speeches by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and IAFF general president Harold Schaitberger in which accused the president of neglecting the heroes of Sept. 11.

Schaitberger ridiculed as insincere Bush's videotaped remarks shown Monday at the conference, in which Bush expressed sympathy and admiration for the firefighters who responded to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Don't lionize our fallen brothers in one breath, and then stab us in the back by eliminating funding for our members to fight terrorism and stay safe," Schaitberger said. "President Bush ( news - web sites), you are either with us or against us. You can't have it both ways."

Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, told the firefighters: "I strongly urge the President to reconsider. If he refuses to do so, however, I am prepared to do everything I can as majority leader to see that you get the resources you need to do your jobs safely and effectively."

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