My 2011 Class Trip to Washington

Let me share with you a number of my observations on how things went in Washington, D.C. Yes my friends, it is that time of the year. Spring is in the air and the flowers are in bloom in many parts of the nation. Once again, the fire service faithfuls...

I could not agree more. People in Washington, D.C. are attacking our fire programs under the banner of cost-cutting. Thankfully, we have been able to battle back in order to have our Assistance to Firefighter Grant program and the SAFER program funded at a higher level than our President thought necessary.

That is for now: but what about the future? He also spoke of the fact that there are those who are attempting to pit one side against the other. I could not agree more. We cannot let this wedge be driven between our various associations. We all need to present a united front if we are to have any success in advancing our national fire service agenda.

During the time we were all in Washington, D.C. for the annual Congressional Fire Service Institute (CFSI) dinner, a number of folks came forward to say that their visits on Capitol Hill were not generating a great deal of good news. These were the people who made the pilgrimage to solicit support from their own legislators.

There was a palpable pall in the air as these folks shared their message with us at one of the watering holes at the Hilton. Most said that they were told to expect an even bigger battle for the bucks next year. Given the partisan battles raging under the Capitol dome, one can only wonder how bad it will be as we approach the Presidential election wars of 2012.

In light of these thoughts, let me share my impressions of the dinner. The speeches at the dinner were quite a bit different this year. The speeches were really long on support for all of the dedicated men and women of the American Fire Service. However, I think it is really important for me to add at this point that there was not a great deal of supportive buzz generated during the various speeches which were made at the Washington Hilton by the various leaders of the fire caucus.

This was a year without the usual array of promises for support in Congress. Like I said, the members of the fire caucus leadership corps loved us. They spoke of such things as supporting and not supplanting the efforts at the local level. Every time I hear the words "support not supplant" I have to reach for my wallet because I start to feel a federal hand reaching for my money. Given the amount of taxes that my wife and I had to pay for last year, this is not an unwarranted worry on my part.

Our Keynote Speaker this year was Craig Fugate, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He set the tone for the evening when he spoke of the fact that, "…rhetoric does not recognize the value of public service." A critical element of his speech revolved around the concept that we in the emergency response world are, "…a team (and that) we must continue to trust each other." He spoke of the need to empower our people to get the critical emergency service job done in America.

One of the best comments of the night came from Representative Rob Andrews (D-NJ). He spoke of the fact that our nation needs to learn a lesson in selfless service, if we are to regain our edge in the world. He told us all that this is, "…a value our country needs to learn from the fire service."

Congressman Andrews went on to state that a great many people in our country need to learn how to put someone else's interests above their own. He closed by stating that, as a nation, "…we are not perfect, but we are the best that there is … and the fire service is the best of the best." I surely agree with that observation.

One of the comments which came out a bit later also made a great deal of sense to me. That person stated that the fire service should not be caught in the crossfire between the political parties. I wish I could tell you which of the speakers uttered these words, but they sure as heck made a lot of sense to me. I really do not like being a prisoner in the annual Washington budgetary wars, but we've been there before and we sure as hell will be there again next year.

It has been my good fortune to have been an attendee at the fire caucus dinner for more than twenty years now. I might have missed a couple, but rest assured that I have made the overwhelming majority of them since they began back in 1988. Let me close by suggesting that we in the American Fire Service are on the road to reaching the goal suggested by Scott Brown's sermon. Let me also suggest that the fire service can only win if everyone becomes one. We have made a good start in early 2011. Let us continue our efforts as we move forward.