Menendez joined members of the North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue squad at their West New York headquarters that day to announce important improvements to their communication in an emergency response.
The NHRFR serves West New York, Union City, North Bergen, Weehawken, and Guttenberg. But that also means that in an emergency in one of the underwater tunnels to New York, they'd be first on the scene.
NHRFR is the primary responder for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive attacks on the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, the local underwater NJ Transit and Amtrak train tunnels, the North Hudson County public ferry terminals, and other critical infrastructures in the North Hudson region.
On Tuesday, the squad announced the dedication of four new fire trucks as well as the earmarking of funds for a new interoperable emergency communications system, which will link all of North Hudson's emergency responders, allowing for better communications in times of emergency.
"Communication is vital for our emergency responders, whether they are responding to a house fire, a traffic accident, or maintaining vigilance during a time of high alert," said Menendez.
Representing the council of mayors at the event were Mayor Nicholas Sacco of North Bergen, Mayor Albio Sires of West New York, Mayor Richard Turner of Weehawken, and Mayor David Della Donna of Guttenberg.
According to the 9/11 Commission, the inability of first responders to communicate with each other was one of the key failings on Sept. 11, 2001, which is why the announcement this latest grant for North Hudson's communication system was so important.
Rep. Menendez, who grew up in Union City and lives in Hoboken, secured a $1,183,972 grant from the Fiscal Year 2005 Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations Bill to fund the new system.
"Our very lives depend on being able to communicate with other units in case of an emergency," said Menendez. "This new system will help our police, firefighters, and EMS better protect our neighborhoods, and better coordinate their services."
North Hudson's public safety organizations are members of the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) task force for northern New Jersey, which is why it is critical that they are able to efficiently communicate with each other and with other neighboring aid jurisdictions and emergency management agencies, as well as with regional, state, and federal agencies.
For now this new grant will establish a main communication headquarters for North Hudson, which is anticipated to be fully operation within the next 18 months.
Dangerous two miles
According to Menendez, North Hudson has the most dangerous two miles in America due to its mass transit and its chemical plants. But he said the present federal budget has cut back 20 percent in first responders assistance, and additional firefighters are needed, as well as training for the new equipment.
"Here in Hudson County and New Jersey, we are at the frontline of the challenge," said Menendez. "We must ensure that [first responders] have all of the equipment they need to protect our communities, and this means changing the funding formula so that it is based on risk."
Menendez is working to acquire additional funding for North Hudson's units, so they can take a mobile system with them when responding to an emergency.
"We live in such a great area, but an area filled with targets," said Menendez. "I will continue to fight for adequate and necessary funding for the NHRFR and for all first responders for there is no greater responsibility for the federal government."
At the conclusion of Tuesday's dedication event, Menendez also presented the NHRFR with a U.S. flag that once flew over the state capital in Trenton. It was hoisted up at the NHRFR's main headquarters located at 11 Port Imperial Blvd., West New York. SIDEBAR New trucks for NHRFR
Deputy Chief Nick Gazzillo of the North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue squad kicked off a dedication Tuesday of their four new fire engines, an acquisition that has been in the works for the last two years.
Each truck has been equipped with the latest technology and built per the specifications of the NHRFR over six to eight months, and has been on active service for the last three weeks.
"It is an ongoing process to bring this state-of-the-art equipment to our firefighters and residents, but we are upgrading or fleets as we go along," said Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, who is also chairman of the Board of Directors for NHRFR.
Some of the features found on these trucks are 1,500-gallons-per-minute water pumps along with a 500-gallon water tank, four-section 100-foot aerial ladders, and state-of-the-art radio and intercom systems among many other features to further ensure the safety of the firefighters and residents.
"These four trucks include a lot of safety standards that have been incorporated over the last few years," said Jeff Welz, co-director of NHRFR.
The new trucks replaced 20-year-old equipment that had been inherited by the NHRFR when North Hudson's individual fire departments first merged in the late 1990s.
At the time, 17 regional fire stations were used by the departments. The standard life span for fire trucks is about 15 to 20 years.
"They were all originally designed and will be dispersed throughout the stations; one will remain here [at the main headquarters in West New York]," said Turner.
The approximate cost of the trucks was $2,037,000, which was funded through a low interest loan from the Hudson County Improvement Authority. - JR