The Missionary Position

Let me first explain why I chose this title for this commentary. When I was crafting this piece, I was torn as to just what I should create as a title. After a considerable period of thinking, I chose the above title from my list of several because I wanted to be sure that I grabbed you by the throat and dragged you to my commentary.

If you think about the title and then about me, you can possibly uncover a clue as to how I feel we in the fire service are being dealt with by our local, county, state, and federal governments. It is even possible that you might wonder what thoughts I could have to offer to you on what you perceived, at first blush, might be the topic of my visit with you. That is possible. I am also quite certain that as you move through this piece, there will be those among you who disagree with my position on the matter of federal fire funding.

The first title I created out there in my "thinking chair" on the front porch went something along the lines of "The Enemy is at it Again." As I puffed and pondered out in my special thinking place, it dawned on me that I would need to define the enemy. I then begin to think that I would have to define the many parts of who I believe the enemy to be.

My friends, there is plenty of blame, on all sides of this issue. There are a great many hands fighting to grab the bloody knife which is stabbing our fire service in the back. However, I knew I first had to bring you to my writing place. This I hope I have done.

The title for this week's visit with you should probably, and more properly be; "Are You Ready to Assume the Position of Missionary for the American Fire Service?" My friends, I strongly believe that we are in a national battle with forces within our government, who are being aided by forces outside of government.

This seems to be an odd arrangement of both liberals and conservatives. There seem to be those on all sides who are arrayed against us. There are people who have grown jealous of the success that our various fire service grant programs have enjoyed.

Let us take a look at the basic facts. Last year, Congress appropriated $565 million for the FIRE grant program and $210 million for the SAFER grant program. In his Fiscal Year 2010 budget request, President Obama proposed doubling the SAFER grant program to $420 million and cutting the FIRE grant program by almost 70 percent to $170 million.

Gang the numbers are quite simple and easy to read. They tell a story and that tale is one of an uncaring and antagonistic administration. Let me translate this all for you. Let me use simple words which portray my feelings about the danger I believe the fire service to be in at this time.

The current administration does not seem to care at all about the majority of the fire service.

Did you miss any part of my thoughts? Were my words possibly too complicated for you? I sure as heck hope not. If my words do not get your attention and make you mad, then you probably do not care about the fate of the fire service here in our great nation.

I have experienced a level of push back from people in the government over many of my articles on the FIRE Act. My 2006 FIRE Act Road trip was met by a great deal of resistance by forces I cannot reveal. People that Jack Peltier and I visited, in order to share their success with you, were suddenly visited by federal examiners who used my words in a manner inconsistent with the reasons for their creation by me. Success in our case seems to have begat jealousy by a number of different factions.

My purpose for writing this commentary is quite simple. I want to grab your attention. I want to make the rumblings in your gut rise up to a fever pitch. I want to inspire you to act. Ladies and gentlemen, wake up: we stand on the verge of losing all of the gains achieved by these critical federal fire programs. You must wise up to the fact that we are not on everyone's Christmas Card List when it comes to forces within the Washington Beltway.

Specifically, I am referring to those people out there in America who believe that the federal government has no business providing funding for our beloved fire service. This is a topic close to my heart, since I was part of the team which helped to shepherd these new programs into being at the beginning of this, the 21st Century.

More than that, I devoted an entire month of my life to traveling the roads of our nation in pursuit of those successes which have been created by the various grant programs available to the fire service. I saw great changes which had been created by the receipt of federal financial assistance.

I have traveled, lectured, and written about the need to be vigilant about our FIRE Act. As things now seem to be playing out, I might as well have been urinating into the proverbial winds of our nation. But, and here is the big but, I was right. There are people on all sides of the issue who want to take our money away.

You have already seen the first round in the battle reported on the pages of this website. You need only look at the massive cuts in funding that were made to the Fiscal Year 2010 federal budget to get the gist of the problem. The game being played in our nation's capitol is one of true, bare-knuckle boxing. It is turning friend against friend in the battle to meet your needs and mine. Look at the battle between people and things which the current budget changes have created.

Let me share the fickle nature of our Congress with you. This nation's Democratic Congress told our dear friend, Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and his band of fire service supporters, Jason Altmire (D-PA), Steve Austria (R-OH), and Peter King (R-NY), to "hit the bricks." The House Rules Committee issued a ruling which forbade our supporters from making their case before the House. Talk about a backhand to the chops for a loyal New Jersey Democrat.

The mighty Lords who rule the house rules committee of our House of Representatives (pun intended) smacked our friend Bill Pascrell across the chops with a ruling which prevented him and his allies from speaking on the need to add FIRE Act funding to the 2010 federal budget. Please note that this was a bi-partisan team working for you and me.

This was an effort by people on both sides of the political aisle to come together in support of all that you and I do to protect our communities. My level of anger has been bubbling along on a low-level boil for the past few weeks. I have spent a great deal of time pondered the possible ways in which the protagonists in this battle could be pounced upon.

As I spent time gathering my thoughts, the forces of my brain were thrown into overdrive (warp speed) by the publication of a paper by the conservative Heritage Foundation in their WebMemo which offered a series of strongly negative opinions regarding the FIRE Grant program, the SAFER program, and the Fire Prevention and Safety grants program. This paper was prepared by Dr. David B. Muhlhausen, and was entitled, "Do DHS Grants Reduce Fire Casualties?"

A review of this document served to bring my blood to the boiling point. This researcher chose to focus in tightly on a particular number in the fire service recordkeeping system. This paper alleges that there is no provable tie between the money which has come into the fire service and the number of casualties which have been reported. In just a few short pages, this man dismisses all of the good works which have come from the provision of federal funding.

This author of this paper keeps pounding away at the theme that no figures exist which support any reported reduction in the number of firefighter deaths, firefighter injuries, civilian deaths and civilian injuries. No mention was made of any sort of improved service delivery programs or more effective operations which were brought about by the injection of funds into our service. No mention was made of those lives which might have been saved, or those fires which might have been prevented.

The successes within our system exist and are observable. I will not believe that those examples of improved service which Jack Peltier and I saw on our 2006 road trip were mirages. We saw elements of a fire service that was better able to do their job because of the largess created by our FIRE Act. We met people in Alabama who told us that the fire department pumpers they received through FIRE Act funding were the first new pumpers ever to see the streets of their counties. We saw a county-wide communications program in Greene County, OH, which would never have been built without the FIRE Act funding program.

I have tried to portray the enemies which surround us. Let me now turn my thoughts to what I will call the enemy within. It is my contention that the fire service is guilty of one simple, but dangerous behavior. The fire service has become complacent. They think the FIRE Act, and the other programs from the federal government are cast in concrete; that they will always be there for us. Guess what? It can all disappear with the stroke of a pen in Washington, D.C.

Many among us have come to rely on the FIRE Act as the basis for funding their operations. Many agencies have been successful on multiple occasions. Others have never been successful and have stopped applying. My friends, now is the time to push back at the system. You must continue to battle for the programs and you must continue to use them as well. If the government sees a drop off in applications that will make them think that their perceptions are correct and that the programs are no longer needed.

I am suggesting to you that the time has come to stop letting the other person fight your battles. It just isn't happening. The national fire service organizations can only do so much to educate the members of Congress. The Congressional Fire Services Institute can only do so much to explain our case. We must create a network of personal interaction. We need create a true grassroots-level lobbying effort on this critical issue. We need to create the position of FIRE Act Missionary in every one of our nation's 535 Congressional Districts.

Unfortunately, my words here on your computer screen can have no impact in and of themselves. They are simply my thoughts presented to you for your use. Should you choose to do something, then a multiplier effect can begin to take hold in your area. If enough of you join the battle, we can have an impact. However, I cannot do this for you because I have no actual standing with the political forces in your state.

Your Member of the House of Representative does not care who Harry Carter is or what he has to say. I cannot vote for them. However, they do care about what you have to say, because you, your family, your friends, and the members of your fire department can vote for him or her. If we are to succeed in this battle for our financial lives, you must actively assume the position of FIRE Act Missionary in your area.

Let me suggest that I intend to fire the first salvo in this battle. This campaign will begin with me sending a copy of this article, along with one autographed copy of my 2006 Road Trip book to each of my states representatives. The same package will go to both of our U.S. Senators here in the Great Garden State. How can I ask you to do something if I am unwilling to do the same thing?

It has been written that the journey of 10,000 miles begins with but a single step. Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to take my first step. By the way, I will not need to send any additional copies of my book to Bill Pascrell. I personally gave a number of them to him during a trip to Washington in 2007.

You can order copies of my book from Trafford Publishing at 888-232-4444. You can look at the book's sales page at http://books.trafford.com/06-26431. This book is entitled, Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip

I can urge you to buy my book with a clear conscience. All proceeds from this book, as well as my Leadership: A View from the Trenches book, go to the Colts Neck Reformed Church Building Fund.

I have thrown down the gauntlet. I would hope that you pick up my challenge and do the same in your area. The only way we can win the battle to save the FIRE Act is to become Missionaries for the FIRE Act. If we do not, we may all be asked to assume the position, and it may not be the missionary one. As one who has done battle in the trenches since the Ford Administration, I understand the system and what needs to be done. It is your call my friends, but I am urging you to act.

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HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department and is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. He recently published Leadership: A View from the Trenches and Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip, which was also the subject of a Firehouse.com blog To read Harry's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. You can reach Harry by e-mail at drharrycarter@optonline.net.

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