War jeopardizes Montana’s first responders and firefighters, Tester warns

War diverts essential funding, resources from states

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester today warned that the Iraq War is taking a dangerous toll on the nation's first responders—a risk that could affect Montana as wildfire season approaches.

Tester highlighted his concerns during a Capitol Hill news conference this morning with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and several first responders from around the country.

"While we spend more than $2 billion a week in Iraq, without a plan or an end in sight, other essential services here at home slip by the wayside," Tester said.  "This war is robbing our first responders of the resources they need to do their job.  And it's robbing our country of many first responders who serve in our military—some of whom have been deployed two or three times."

First responders include wildland firefighters, structural firefighters, EMTs, law enforcement officers and national guard troops.

"We're coming up on close to a decade of drought in Montana, and this fire season we're going to need all hands on deck," Tester said. 

Tester pointed to the recent tornado that devastated Greensburg, Kansas, earlier this month.  Response to that disaster suffered because much of the Kansas National Guard's equipment is in Iraq.

Throughout the country, state national guards have less than half of the required equipment needed to respond to natural disasters such as wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes.

Montana's senior senator, Max Baucus, also has concerns about resources being tied up in Iraq.

"Montana's first responders play a critical role in the Big Sky state – they do a great job in helping those in need," Baucus said. "However our first responders are already spread too thin. They shouldn't be overseas in Iraq – they should be home helping out with fire season and other disasters around the state."

"First responders have always been our first line of defense against the ravages of man made and natural disasters," Stabenow said.  "That is a responsibility and a sacrifice that demands our greatest appreciation and respect.  Instead our first responders are being asked to do more and more with less and less, often without adequate equipment and personal because of our overextension in Iraq."