During each session of Congress, there are several pieces of legislation that stand to impact the fire service in positive or negative ways. The 112th Congress is no exception. Rather than go into detail concerning the current items on the congressional legislative agenda, it may be helpful to discuss the importance of gaining bipartisan support in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives for fire service issues in general.
Bipartisan politics describes a situation in which opposing political parties (such as in the United States) find common ground through compromise on specific issues. The idea is to reconcile the concerns of both political parties about a particular bill, act or resolution so that they can move forward with an acceptable set of actions.
The opposite political environment (partisan) is characterized by a general or specific lack of cooperation between parties. It is often based on strong political beliefs about various significant issues that results in little or no cooperation between the parties on anything. A few examples of what tend to be partisan viewpoints in today's society include issues such as foreign policy and immigration and health-care reform. They tend to bring out very strong feelings on both sides of the aisle that can literally polarize debate or action. Based on this reality, it should be obvious why fire service issues should not be allowed to find themselves attached to strongly partisan issues.
Whereas partisan politics can complicate the legislative process and prevent Congress from completing work on important issues, we as a national fire service should strive for a bipartisan approach to achieve our goals. The Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) is a strong proponent of the importance of this approach. CFSI works with all members of Congress — primarily through the leadership of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus — to provide them with objective information about federal legislation and policies that impact the nation's fire and emergency services.
Within the Fire Caucus, there are Democrats and Republicans committed to ensuring that the needs of first responders are considered when certain decisions are made in Congress. Among many other policy issues, these include determining the role of the federal government in fire department training, addressing the basic needs for equipment, staffing and apparatus that departments could otherwise not achieve, providing prevention and public education programs, and safeguarding first responders from various types of hazards. Imagine the difficulty of achieving these results when there is not bipartisan support for our most important issues.
This is where the members of the fire service can play a critical role in the decision-making process. Political affiliations aside, we should all become more engaged with our elected officials in fire service-related legislation. That means we should contact our elected members of the House and Senate periodically to seek their support for pending fire service issues. When making these contacts, be polite and non-threatening. It's also important to be specific concerning what you're asking the elected official to do.
It's easy to get updates on what those fire service issues are and their status. The best way is to visit the CFSI website at www.cfsi.org. When making congressional contacts, it is also a great opportunity to ask whether they are members of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, and if so, thank them for doing that. If they are not currently members of the Caucus, it's a great opportunity to invite them to join. Instructions on how to join the Caucus can be found on the CFSI website.
With all of the work that lies ahead in the 112th Congress, it may be worthwhile for all of us to be reminded of the importance of the bipartisan support we have enjoyed for fire service issues for many years. This has not occurred by chance, but rather represents the result of a lot of hard work and relationship building by very dedicated fire service professionals.
Fire service issues in Congress must stay non-partisan in nature and will require bipartisan support for the fire service to be effective at the federal level. We should remember that as we go about our business, we must also be willing to do our part to make the process work as effectively as possible.