Wednesday, May 13, 2009

An Open Letter To Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Mr. Vice President,

Here in your hometown of Wilmington, firefighters and citizens are marking the closing of RESCUE-ONE, quite possibly the most important fire-rescue unit in the state. The reason? Mayor James Baker's decision to layoff highly trained public servants for not agreeing to his unusual demand to ignore the articles of their contract, which were negotiated and signed just weeks ago.

The citizens of Wilmington and the State are losing the ONLY full-time technical rescue team in the First State. With Rescue-One's closure the city of Wilmington returns to tactics that were used in the 1960's. The family trapped in a wrecked auto along I-95 will be required to wait for a volunteer squad to come to their rescue. Such delayed rescues will deprive them from gaining quick access to definitive health care at nearby Trauma centers.

Workers trapped on a scaffold on the upper floors of a Wilmington High-Rise will be required to wait it out hundreds of feet above the street, as dispatchers check with surrounding cities to determine if fire-rescue administrators are willing to lend assistance. Children caught in a swiftwater Brandywine River will perish as their would be rescuers stand not grabbing hold of a rescue line, but rather holding paperwork in the unemployment line.

Many see Rescue-One's closing as being punitive in nature, as the city administration has turned a deaf ear to dozens of options offered by citizens and firefighters alike.

Mr. Baker’s layoffs make a bad problem worse. The firings will do absolutely nothing to help fix the overriding problem -- overtime. So Chief Willie Patrick will still need to initiate his proposed rolling bypass concept, which closes inadequately staffed stations for the day. There will be days when this city of 75,000 plus will be protected by as few as 24 firefighters -- down from 38.

Mr. Vice President, you have said on several occasions that the burden of current state, county and city financial woes should not be borne on the backs of its public servants. President Obama announced last week substantial increases in the SAFER program, which you helped develop as co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute. Surely, Wilmington's finance officer could develop a proposal requesting assistance from the SAFER fund.

I know that your schedule is extremely tight, but many of us in Wilmington are hoping that a phone call to the Mayor may help him re-think this decision.

I respectfully submit this letter as a firefighter advocate, and as the rookie firefighter who responded, along with Larry Mertgenthaler and Don Lentes, to the horrible accident that affected you and your family in December of 1972.


Lou Angeli
2203 N. Harrison Street
Wilmington, DE 19802

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