Taken for Granted, Taken Away

This commentary is about a subject near and dear to my heart. I am referring to the FIRE Act Assistance for Firefighters Grant (AFG) program and its allied fire prevention, SAFER, and the station construction associates. Many among you have come to...

We have all seen the ebb and flow of events over the course of the last decade. We have seen years when the funding levels are high and we have seen years where the level of funding was considerably less generous. Throughout these times, the folks in the national fire organizations, the Congressional Fire Service Institute (CFSI), and many individual fire people have worked hard to keep our name and story in front of the members of Congress.

Back in 2006, my best friend Jack Peltier and I took a memorable road trip to study the impact of the FIRE Act programs on the people out there around our nation. Over the course of a one month period, Jack and I traveled 6,100 miles in my GMC Suburban.

We traveled though 18 states and met with representatives from nearly 50 fire departments. We met with members of municipal, county, state, and federal legislative staffs. Jack and I saw firsthand the great things which the funding from the act had allowed to occur. Later that year, I was privileged to be part of a Congressionally-mandated study of the AFG program.

A number of us gathered in Washington to discuss where we were and what we saw as the future of the program. Let me assure you that a number of folks in the group thought that the program had peaked at that point and that it would begin to go the way of many federal programs. This is to say that they thought people would begin to take it for granted and not support it. These folks felt that it would fall out of favor and go away.

Let me assure you that a number of us have fought hard for this program. Nothing is guaranteed in the world of federal grant programs. You always have to be on guard for that hidden attack. Many times these attacks come from groups within our own camp. These types of internally-generated vendetta just irk the heck out of me. They are hard to uncover and require great amounts of effort to battle. I am still amazed that people in our own field are attempting to fight the whole array of grant programs.

Again this year, the administration wanted to cut our funding to the bone. The coalition of national organization came together and was able, with the assistance of a number of people, to make some significant improvements to the budget requests. Once again Bill Pascrell was in there pitching for us.

I am afraid that many among you do not believe, as I do, that our federal fire programs could go away in the midst of a poor economy. Let me suggest that each of you take a moment to contact your member of the U.S. House of Representatives to ask for their continued support of our efforts. The same holds true for the two Senators from your state. This effort is needed more than ever this year, given the sea of change in the composition of our Congress.

Like many of you, I will be hiking down to Washington, D.C. on April 6 and 7 to be a part of the festivities surrounding the annual CFSI Dinner. Let me assure you that I will be in the crowd keeping an eye on things. Let me also assure you of my continued personal support for the FIRE Act-based programs.

It is my intention to take an abbreviated road trip tour of the New England area this fall. My trip out West was cancelled last year owing to the serious medical situation surrounding my pal Jack Peltier. It has taken him almost 18 months, but he is back in shape and we are going to head out this fall, ably assisted by our buddy Ken McMahon from Delaware.

Let me close by reminding you that each of us has a role to play in insuring that our federal fire grant programs do not disappear in a rush to cut funding for everything. Let me urge the members of Congress to stop squabbling and start compromising. I do not care a hoot for R's, D's, I's, or tea bags. I care for the guys and gals who are rolling out each day across America to protect us all.

So remember what the federal bureaucrats told me. If we start to take these programs for granted, the will probably be taken away. Not while I can talk or pound the keys on a computer Stay with me gang.