WASHINGTON -- Next week, a dozen retired New York City police officers, firefighters and communications experts -- all veterans of the 9/11 attack response -- are set to come to Capitol Hill to lobby for a national communications network for first responders.
It will be a repeat performance for them, as they bring their personal stories from their work at Ground Zero to argue for the broadband network the way they did in the uphill battle for the Zadroga 9/11 health bill last year.
"I am going to approach this with the same game plan as the Zadroga bill," said John Feal, head of the Feal Good Foundation and leader of a team of Ground Zero first responders. "This bill is vital to the welfare of national police and firefighters," said Feal, of Nesconset.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), would change the current policy to auction public airwaves known as Block D and instead set it aside for a public-safety network.
The bill's backers said the broadband network is needed to finally solve the inability of police, firefighters and others to talk to each other over radios because their equipment uses different airwaves. Opponents say the private sector can build a public safety network more efficiently and that an auction would contribute to lowering the federal deficit.
King's bill is stalled in the House. Rockefeller's bill won committee approval last month and awaits a full Senate vote.
Feal said he was drafted to visit about a dozen Republican senators on July 20, in a telephone call from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) three weeks ago and a follow-up call from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). Schumer and Gillibrand are co-sponsoring the bill.
"What am I going to do, say no?" Feal said. "The fact that they called me for my team, it was humbling and a compliment."
Several lawmakers credit the frequent visits to Capitol Hill by Feal and the ailing survivors with persuading reluctant Republicans to vote for the Zadroga bill -- or at least not block it.
On Dec. 22, 2010, Congress passed a compromise version of the Zadroga bill that allocates $2.75 billion over a period of years to those suffering from diseases linked to 9/11, its recovery and cleanup.