These are the days when political candidates scramble to get their pictures taken with firefighters down at the local firehouse. They come around every two to four years (depending on their term in office) to pose for the cameras, pledge their support on issues that concern the fire department and proclaim how much they admire firefighters. Whether they're running for dog catcher or President of the United States, the firehouse "photo op" has become a mandatory campaign stop -- especially since Sept. 11, 2001.
Some of these candidates actually deserve your support. They have responded when fire safety bills were debated in city or county councils, state legislatures or the U.S. Congress. They are genuinely concerned with the level of fire and EMS protection and they've sponsored legislation affecting firefighter health, safety and the welfare of their families. And, in between elections, senior fire officers have been welcome in their offices when they've had problems to discuss. But watch out for those who come to you under false pretenses. After the election, they will be indifferent and too busy to see you. Instead, they'll have a staff member or an in intern talk to you in the outer office and you won't hear from them until the next election. And, beware of the real bad guys who want your help despite a long record of opposition to just about every bill that concerns firefighters and fire departments.
This year's presidential campaign has had its share of candidates who boasted about their ties to firefighters. So I called around the country to determine how they get along with firefighters in their home states and districts. Here's a report on what I learned:.
Democratic Senators Joseph Biden (Delaware) and Christopher Dodd (Connecticut) and Republican Senator John McCain (Arizona) are among the best friends firefighters ever had in Congress. All three have served as co-chairmen of the Congressional Fire Service Caucus and have close ties to fire leaders in their home states and in Washington, where their doors are always open to firefighters. They often take the lead and never hesitate to speak out when it comes to fighting for important fire-rescue legislation. Dodd had the endorsement of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), but dropped out of the Democratic race after a weak showing in the Iowa Caucus. That also was the end of the Biden campaign. As this is written, McCain is narrowly leading the Republican pack going into South Carolina, Florida and more than 20 other states that hold primaries and caucuses on Feb. 5 -- which will be decisive.
The IAFF will wait for the field to sort itself out before making another endorsement. Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton (New York) and Barak Obama (Illinois) both have good relations with firefighters in their home states. New York fire leaders I spoke with praised Clinton for her strong support on many issues after 9/11 with the tragic impact it had on the FDNY and the families of those who died in the line of duty. Obama drew praise from Illinois fire service leaders for being accessible to them and for the support he has given to fire issues in Congress, as he did during two terms in the Illinois state legislature. "He was one of our strongest advocates in the legislature," a state fire leader relates. In contrast, a North Carolina fire leader expressed disappointment with former Senator John Edwards, who firefighters endorsed when he first ran for office. Once elected, they claim that Edwards failed to support them on some key issues and never met with fire service officers who worked on legislative matters.
On the Republican side, there's nothing but bad blood between New York City firefighters and ex-mayor Rudolph Giuliani. A lot of it goes back to 9/11 and the aftermath, when police were ordered to arrest firefighters who refused to stop digging for remains. In Massachusetts, there is bitterness toward former governor Mitt Romney, who backed a sprinkler law, but opposed the fire service on almost every other issue, including standards, benefits and collective bargaining. "We didn't have a seat at the table with him," a Bay State fire leader says.
An Arkansas fire officer says the same thing about ex-governor Mike Huckabee, whose father was a volunteer firefighter. A pension bill passed while he was governor, but not much else and there weren't many face-to-face meetings between Huckabee and fire service leaders. Also in the GOP field is Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who distinguished himself by being one of only two members of the House who voted against a bipartisan resolution calling on the Justice Department to fully implement the Hometown Heroes Act. (I don't know if Congressman Paul has even tried to get his picture taken in a firehouse, but that's probably not a good idea.)
I couldn't get a line on where ex-senator Fred Thompson (R) or Rep. Dennis Kucinich stood with the fire service. But when you look at who's left in the presidential race at this point, the only ones with a track record of support for the fire-rescue service are Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama and Republican John McCain.
HAL BRUNO, a FirehouseÂ® contributing editor, retired as political director for ABC News in Washington and served almost 40 years as a volunteer firefighter. He is a director of the Chevy Chase, MD, Fire Department and chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.