When they were deployed during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Missouri Task Force One’s trained volunteers became one of the New York Fire Department’s most vital resources, former department Commissioner Thomas Von Essen said Monday. But similar task forces can grow even stronger, he said, by mobilizing more ordinary individuals to join.
“The experience, the discipline and the training of the task force truly did a remarkable job for us,” Von Essen told a small audience at the Boone County Fire Protection District headquarters in Columbia as part of a campaign event for President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. “To have 20 to 25 men come in and not have to worry about training them, that experience is a great resource.”
Equipment for Missouri Task Force One, which includes 230 people managed and trained by the Boone County fire district under an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, costs just less than $2.2 million per year. U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., who praised both the task force and the Bush administration at the event, secured $1.5 million for the task force’s training and equipment in 2002. The federal government has since continued to funnel money to support the task force.
Boone County Fire Protection District Chief Steve Paulsell said that while he supports Bush and is a member of the advisory committee, the campaign was required to pay the standard $100 fee to hold the event at the fire district headquarters. Paulsell said, however, that he was excited to have the fire district host the event because of his own experience as a first responder during the 9/11 attacks. Since then, integration among local, state and federal first responders has improved, and Missouri Task Force One continues to train for future attacks, he said.
“As we sit here today and look at the looming threat, we think, ‘Well, if something was to occur there, and we went back to New York, we’d have a much better idea of what to expect,” Paulsell said of the possibility of terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
Von Essen said one of the worst reactions the public could have to heightened security and threats of terror is apathy. “As time goes by, people become less concerned,” Von Essen said. “To become apathetic and not believe that we must do everything we can to prevent terrorists from walking the streets, I think that is a big mistake.”