Honoring First Responders Day

A female police officer gets a COVID-19 vaccine
AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans worried about their safety. They stayed at home, they wore masks and they socially distanced to avoid catching this terrible and deadly disease.

But there was one group of Americans who risked their lives daily so that the rest of us could stay safe. They were our first responders. They were the men and women who stayed late in hospitals so that everyone who needed help could get it. They drove ambulances to get people infected with the disease to the medical facilities that could help them. They kept buses running and grocery store shelves stocked.  They stayed on the front lines in our battle against COVID-19 when everyone else stayed away from each other.

{mosads}Our first responders need to be rewarded for their heroism. As we celebrate First Responders Day, we need to do more than state our support for these brave Americans. We need to back up our talk with action. I passed a public law in 2015 and introduced two bills recently to help our first responders stay safe and support them for their heroic work.

The most important action I have done to protect our front-line workers is pass a law, the DHS Interoperable Communications Act of 2015, that allowed emergency service agencies to communicate with each other. After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, investigations showed that the lack of communication between departments led to the deaths of dozens of first responders. Radio communications that ordered local law enforcement officers to flee the World Trade Center were not heard by local firemen and women because they were not tuned into police broadcasts.

My law corrected that issue. It directed the under secretary for management of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create “interoperable communications” among the various agencies and departments under the jurisdiction of the DHS. Basically, it allowed the department to create a communications network that would allow all emergency services personnel to talk to each other during a crisis. That way, they could coordinate life-saving actions and activities more efficiently and still protect the safety and security of our first responders.

The first bill is the First Responder Access to Innovative Technologies Act. Our first responders need the best, most modern equipment available to do their jobs and protect us during emergencies. Every year, the federal government provides millions of dollars in grants to fire departments, law enforcement departments and emergency services personnel to allow them to buy modern equipment. But there is a lengthy approval process for public agencies to buy safety technology and equipment using these grants.

This bill also requires DHS to develop a streamline and transparent process to review requests to purchase safety technology, especially for the purchase of modern and innovative equipment. In addition, the bill helps departments that have been denied their purchase requests understand why they were denied and improve the success of their requests in the future.

My second bill is the Hazardous Duty Pay for Frontline Federal Workers Act. COVID-19 has taken a brutal toll on our front-line workers. For example, more than 10,800 Transportation Security officers have tested positive for the disease and at least 30 have died from it while they worked to protect our airports from terrorism, according to statistics from the Transportation Safety Administration. These courageous employees are a few of the millions of federal workers who kept our federal day care centers open, cared for our veterans during this public health crisis, and allowed our government to function.

{mossecondads}Also, the bill would require federal agencies to provide additional compensation to employees who contract COVID-19 during this global pandemic. This compensation would apply to employees who are exposed to the disease as well. I reintroduced the bill in April, and I have worked to get it included in one of the COVID-19 stimulus bills. Even though it did not make it into one of those packages, the bill has been passed in a previous Congress. I am confident that Congress can pass it again to pay these workers for their efforts.

The public law and these bills are just three ways I have worked to provide additional support for the Americans who sacrificed, and continue to sacrifice, their safety to improve the safety of others. They are the soldiers and heroes in our battle against COVID-19. As we pay tribute to our heroic first responders on First Responders Day, the least we can do is show them our appreciation is more than just words.

Rep. Donald Payne Jr. represents New Jersey’s 10th District and is a member of the Homeland Security Committee.

Tags Donald Payne Jr. first responders Front Lines
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