The Congressional Fire Services Caucus: Let's Increase the Membership

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National Elections Costly as Capitol Hill Caucus Sheds 38 Members

As I'm sure you know, the regular author of this ongoing column in Firehouse® Magazine covering Fire Politics is Hal Bruno. Hal is a great friend and a talented journalist, and I have been asked to pinch hit for him in this space for a while. There is no way that I could begin to fill Hal's shoes or pretend to have his background and expertise in politics, but I am honored to be asked to fill in until his return, which we all hope is very soon. - Chief Dennis Compton

The November 2008 elections created considerable turnover within the halls of Congress. In both the Senate and House of Representatives, some incumbents lost re-election, some moved to the Executive Branch of government, others retired and some left for various other reasons. As a consequence, we shouldn't be surprised that this turnover has impacted the Congressional Fire Services Caucus membership.

At the end of the 110th Congress, the Caucus had 329 members; now, at the beginning of the 111th Congress, it has 291 members. The Caucus lost 38 members - six in the Senate and 32 in the House of Representatives. Of the 291 Caucus members, 229 are from the House of Representatives and 62 are from the Senate. That means 53% of the House and 62% of the Senate are members of the Caucus. Therefore, we've all got some important work to do.

The Congressional Fire Services Caucus is a bipartisan coalition of members of the Senate and House who are committed to learning more about the fire and emergency services. Caucus membership does not guarantee positions that will be taken on issues by members, but by joining, they pledge their support to the Caucus, which has been recognized as the largest Caucus in Congress. The fire service is fortunate to have a strong group within the ranks of the Caucus and its leadership (past and present). Following are the current co-chairs of the Caucus: Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ) and U.S. Representatives Rob Andrews (D-NJ), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Peter King (R-NY). Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) also served as a Caucus co-chair, but recently resigned to become the vice president. The Caucus leadership will fill this position soon.

Fire service members often ask what they can do to support the work of the fire service in our nation's capital. There are several ways, and this issue concerning membership in the Congressional Fire Services Caucus is an excellent example of how we can all be of help. Although it will take a little of your time, I encourage you to take the following actions as soon as possible:

  • Go to the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) website at www.cfsi.org and review the Caucus membership status of the Senators and members of the House from your state. If any are not currently members of the Caucus, encourage them to reach out to one or more of the Caucus co-chairs and join.
  • If you have any questions about the Caucus or need some guidance on contacting your elected officials, you can contact the CFSI staff. Although the Caucus is separate from the Institute, the CFSI is by far the best source of this information and they are available to help you. You can get the CFSI contact information at www.cfsi.org.

When all is said and done, elected officials are influenced by input from constituents. If they know that members of the fire service in their state want them to become part of the Caucus, they might be motivated to do so. We need to boost Caucus membership over the next few months, and nobody can have more impact on that goal than you. We have enjoyed strong bipartisan membership in the Caucus over past years, so I know we can quickly build on the current 53% of the House and 62% of the Senators, but it will take some effort on your part.

As issues that are important to the fire service are brought forward in the 111th Congress, it would be very helpful for us to be able to continue to say that the Congressional Fire Services Caucus is the largest Caucus on Capitol Hill. It's a reflection of the level of collective interest, influence, and support the fire service has at the federal level. It's important that we value and maintain the quality and commitment of the Caucus and we must never take its strength and support for granted.

DENNIS COMPTON, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a well-known speaker and the author of several books, including the When in Doubt, Lead series. He is also co-editor of the current edition of the ICMA textbook Managing Fire and Rescue Services. Compton was the fire chief in Mesa, AZ, for five years and assistant fire chief in Phoenix, AZ, where he served for 27 years. Compton is the past chair of the Executive Board of the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) and past chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute's National Advisory Committee. He is also chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Board of Directors and the chairman of the Home Safety Council Board of Directors.

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