I ran for IAFC leadership during the '90s and again in 2002 on a platform that we at the national level could be even more successful and achieve our goals and objectives. As vice president of the IAFC, I led a large delegation of fire chiefs from my home state to Washington to meet with our U.S. senators and congressional representatives during the Congressional Fire Service Day that spring.
As I progressed through the chairs to IAFC president, I encouraged the other 49 states to follow our lead in Massachusetts. We saw record numbers of chiefs wearing their class-A uniforms walking the halls in Congress and we achieved unprecedented success with funding and visibility.
Sadly, many communities are feeling the pinch all across America as we suffer a recession. Fire chiefs' travel budgets are coming under intense scrutiny and in some cases are drying up altogether. How can we maintain our relationships in Washington, while staying close to home and living within our budgets?
I offer the following suggestions:
- Be an active and informed member of the IAFC. You need to keep abreast of the news alerts and calls for action on pending legislation.
Hopefully better days are ahead for us. When your budgets permit, make your reservations to travel to the nation's capital and join us in our efforts to keep the fire and emergency services first and foremost on the minds of our federal elected and appointed officials."
Budgeting is simply all about the distribution of the scarce resources. And, as we feel the current economic pinch, we realize that the resources are even scarcer now and they are depleting rather rapidly. It is also evident that the competition for that little piece of the pie is quite fierce.
The President's budget request for next year does not look too promising for the fire service. Although the proposed funding for the SAFER grant program indicates an increase from $210 million to $420 million, it also proposes reducing funding for the AFG program from $565 million to $170 million.
Continuation of the federal fire grant programs is of utmost importance for us in the fire service. Many of our brightest, determined, and most dedicated fire service leaders fought tirelessly for very many years to establish these federal fire grant programs. And, year after year, they stepped up to the plate and fended off the many opponents seeking elimination of those grants. As a direct result of their continued advocacy and lobbying efforts, many of the under-resourced fire departments around our country have received the desperately needed grants to protect their communities.
Last year for example, there were more than 21,000 fire departments that applied for approximately $3.2 billion in AFG, and just over 1,300 departments applied for $600 million through SAFER. This huge demand is indicative that although the federal fire grants are a far cry from systematic sustained funding, that fire service needs to improve our service delivery; still we definitely need this continued governmental support to be able to better protect our local communities.
My friends, times are tough and our hands our tied. Despite that, we must intensify our lobbying efforts and further increase our public education and advocacy at all levels of government. Write your congressional delegation today (see attached CFSI letters). Send e-mails to the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee Honorable David Price; the Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee Honorable Harold Rogers; the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee Honorable Robert C. Byrd; and the Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee Honorable George V. Voinovich and ask them to restore the AFG to its FY09 funding level of $565 million.
We must be unified in our stance and focus all our efforts on reviving the AFG program. Believe you me; it is even more important now than ever before.
- Chair of the House Appropriations Committee Honorable David Price
- Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee Honorable Harold Rogers
- Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee Honorable Robert C. Byrd
- Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee Honorable George V. Voinovich
- America Burning Revisited
- Sample Letter: Honorable Robert C. Byrd & Honorable George V. Voinovich (PDF)
- Sample Letter: Honorable David Price & Honorable Robert C. Byrd (PDF)