[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[July 9, 1998]
[Pages 1207-1209]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to Firefighters and Relief Workers in Daytona Beach, Florida
July 9, 1998

    Thank you so much. Well, ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I'd 
like to thank Karen Terry and Randy Holmes for their remarks and the 
introduction and for giving me and all of you and all of America, thanks 
to the media folks who are here, one vivid picture of what these last 
couple of weeks have been all about.
    I want to thank my good friend Governor Chiles for the work that he 
has done. I thank Lieutenant Governor MacKay and all the other State 
officials who are here. I thank Mayor Asher and Mr. Rosevear, the chair 
of the county council. The mayor asked me to say in front of national 
television what Lawton has already said, that Daytona Beach is open for 
tourists. People all over America are calling the White House on the 
comment line. They want to know, what can we do to help the people of 
Florida? Well, one thing you can do is, if you haven't taken your 
vacation yet and you were trying to decide whether to come, give these 
people an economic boost down here. They've got the fires under control, 
and they need some help and support. It would be a good thing to do.
    I want to thank the Members of Congress who are here--Corrine Brown, 
Peter Deutsch, and Allen Boyd--for representing you well and for 
supporting strongly the emergency appropriations that make it possible 
for FEMA and the other agencies to do its work. I thank our Agriculture 
Secretary, Dan Glickman, and our wonderful FEMA Director, James Lee 
Witt, for the work they have done.
    I want to thank all the firefighters who are here. I know we have 
people from Palm Coast Fire Department, from the National Guard, from 
the U.S. Forest Service, from the Division of Florida Forestry, the 
Florida Emergency Management Division, and a lot of State and local 
emergency workers; Mr. Myers, your emergency management director here; 
and I'm glad to see Mr. Barbera from the International Association of 
Fire Fighters here.
    There's so many people I want to thank, but I'd like to say a 
special word of thanks, too, to Bill Franz for making Daytona available 
as a headquarters for the firefighters and for the effort here. I really 
appreciate that.
    They had to postpone the race this year because there was a more 
important race going on, and you just heard them talk about it, a race 
that was fought house by house and family by family. There are 150,000 
fans that normally show up here, and even though the race was delayed, I 
hope they'll show up later to show their loyalty and support not only to 
Daytona but to all of you for what you did here.
    I'm here because I think it's important that every American knows 
that this summer, notwithstanding the great movies, the real American 
heroes are not up in space fighting asteroids, they're in Florida 
fighting fires. And I thank you for it.
    You might be interested to know, those of you who are firefighters, 
that on the several occasions when I would call--and I want to thank our 
great Vice President, Al Gore, for coming down here on my behalf, 
because I was in China when much of this occurred, and I would call back 
and get my daily reports, and every day, people said, ``You would not 
believe what the firefighters are doing. The only real worry we have is, 
none of them will sleep; none of them will rest.''
    As you know, there are almost 100 injuries and no telling how much 
exhaustion here. And I guess I'm cutting into your rest time now, so 
I've now become part of the problem. [Laughter] But I think it's 
important that America know that, too. Every single report I got on the 
progress of these fires, someone said, our real concern is the people 
who are fighting the fires will not sleep; they will not rest; they are 
obsessed with saving every home. And I thank you for that.
    I'd also like to thank the people who came from all corners of our 
country and from Canada

[[Page 1208]]

and even some came from as far away as Russia to help, showing that this 
was a human challenge that touched the hearts of people the world over. 
When I was in China, and we were in the midst of tough discussions and 
arguing over things that are profoundly important over the long run, my 
Chinese host asked me how the people of Florida were doing with the 
fires. You really reached the hearts of people throughout the world.
    I also want to thank the people with the public works departments 
across the State for the work they did in cutting fire lines and 
clearing the fields. And I want to thank again--no telling how many of 
you did things that I don't know about, but I want to echo something 
Governor Chiles said. Maybe it shouldn't require a disaster like this, 
but you did show our country at its best. You showed people at its best. 
You showed people what the meaning of community is and why we all really 
do depend on each other. And as we go back to our daily lives and, I 
hope, a much more ordinary routine, I hope it's something we never 
forget, that we are all in this together; we need each other; and we're 
all at our best when we're giving not only to our families but to our 
neighbors. It's something I will never forget, and I hope all of you can 
help the rest of the people of Florida and the United States remember it 
in good times and rainy times.
    There were children who gave up their Fourth of July picnics and 
trips to Disney World--I met a couple of them earlier, Katie and Megan 
Hendren--to help out and donate food and money; hotel managers giving 
free rooms; churches helping people cook food for all the empty pots; 
laundromat owners cleaning soot and ash from uniforms. I even heard 
about the truckload of bananas that were mistakenly donated to Volusia 
County when you put out the word that bandannas were needed for the 
firefighters. [Laughter] Well, the older I get and the more muscle 
cramps I get doing my exercises, the more I appreciate bananas. So the 
firefighters may need the bananas as well as the bandannas. And I thank 
all the people who made them available.
    Our Government has tried to be a good partner. I just met with 
several people who have been victimized by this fire, and I want to 
thank the families that took the time to talk to me. A lot of them are 
still hurting. Some of them don't have their children living with the 
parents yet; they're all spread out all over. And a lot of them are 
still uncertain about what their future living conditions are going to 
be. And a couple of them gave me some very specific suggestions about 
what we still might do to serve people here better. And I thank them for 
    Today I want to say that there are some new things we're going to 
do, and I'd like to mention them just briefly. First of all, I've 
directed our Agriculture Secretary, who is here with me, Dan Glickman, 
to declare all of our Florida counties eligible for farmers emergency 
loans if they've been affected by the drought, which is directly 
connected to this fire. Second, the Labor Department will pay for 
hundreds of jobs to expedite the recovery process, which is important. 
Third, FEMA will develop a long-term recovery plan with the State and 
work with our economic development administration to analyze the 
economic impact of the fires and see what else we can do to help. And 
finally, FEMA will be giving individual assistance to 29 more counties, 
providing temporary housing, crisis counseling, repairing homes, 
replacing essential items. We're going to do everything we can until the 
full recovery is completed.
    Let me just say one other thing. You all probably know this, but 
this fire was made worse because you had, first, the wettest few months 
you'd ever had, followed by the driest few months you'd ever had, and 
then June was the hottest month ever recorded, even hotter than any July 
or August ever recorded in Florida.
    No one entirely understands what is bringing about this extreme 
weather. But I can tell you this--and I've got it on my mind since I 
just got back from China, and they've been keeping weather records there 
for 500 years and more. Since the 1400's, the 5 hottest years ever 
recorded all occurred in the 1990's; 1997 was the hottest year ever 
recorded. If present temperature trends continue, 1998 will be warmer 
than 1997 was.
    Now, you'll hear a lot of political debate, and the Vice President 
and I believe that the climate is warming and that we ought to take 
steps to cool it off and that we can do it without hurting economic 
growth. Others may disagree. The point I want to make today is I'm going 
to go back to Washington determined to try to do whatever I can to make 
sure that you and people like you all over America can be even better 
prepared, because if we are going to have hotter and hotter and drier 
and drier

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years--and even if we move aggressively to try to combat this climate 
change, we'll have that for a while--then, when you or other people like 
you have to face this again, we need to learn from what you've gone 
through; we need your best advice.
    So that's the last thing I want to ask you. I want to ask you for 
one last shred of citizen service. When this is all over, you need to 
get together with the groups of people that fought this fire; you need 
to put your heads together; you need to ask yourself, what specific 
things could have been done to provide even better preparedness? What do 
you do when you're fighting three fires in three places at once? What do 
you do when you have to make choices about what you're going to do? Is 
there any way to avoid making those kind of choices? What else can we 
    Because we have to believe, based on the evidence of the last 
decade, that if we get hotter and hotter, and we have periods of more 
extreme wet followed by periods of more extreme drought, we're going to 
have more things like this happen. You can help America to deal with 
    And so, when you get some sleep, when you get some rest, when you're 
absolutely confident this crisis is past, if you've got some ideas, get 
them to the State, or get them to our FEMA people, because we want to 
build on what you've done. This has been heroic, but if we can do 
anything to prevent these things or to be better prepared the next time 
because of your experience and your knowledge, I implore you to share it 
with us, because we have to believe we're facing things like this in the 
near future.
    Finally, let me say, I found, with the help of some of our people 
who know I'm interested in Scripture, a verse from Isaiah that I think 
captures what you've all been through. And I'd like to read it to you in 
closing. Isaiah 57:10: ``You were wearied with the length of your way, 
but you did not say it is hopeless. You find new life for your 
    And because you did, our country is stronger. Thank you, and God 
bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 4:15 p.m. at Daytona International 
Speedway. In his remarks, he referred to Karen Terry, a Palm Coast, FL, 
resident whose house was saved by firefighters of the Palm Coast Fire 
Department, one of whom was Randy Holmes, who introduced the President; 
Gov. Lawton Chiles and Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay of Florida; Mayor Baron H. 
Asher of Daytona Beach; R. Stanley Rosevear, chairman, Volusia County 
Council; Joseph F. Myers, director, Florida Division of Emergency 
Management; Dominick F. Barbera, vice president, 12th District, 
International Association of Fire Fighters; Bill Franz, owner, Daytona 
International Speedway; and President Jiang Zemin of China.