Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

My friends, it is time to ask you all to come together in a special way. Once again it is time for me to write about the Fire Act funding levels that have been set forth for next years federal budget.

On more than one occasion I traveled to Washington, D.C., or Virginia to represent the International Society of Fire Service Instructors at the ad hoc summit meetings for the original battles on this issue. Our groups came together to support Congressman Pascrell of New Jersey in this critical effort.

Memories of the first actual grant program meeting at FEMA Headquarters in Washington lie riveted within my mind's eye. I can also recall the collegial gathering at the National Fire Academy where the initial criteria for the grant were created. It is with a great deal of pride that I consider the fact that at every turn in the road my associates and I fought the perception that we could operate the grant program in the way in which it has come to be known. "They" said it could not be done. However the fire service came together and did it.

The Fire Act as originally passed and signed into law allows for the appropriation of up to $1,000,000,000 in any year. It has never approached that level. I want to thank Ken La Sala of the International Association of Fire Chiefs for sending me the Fire Act appropriations for the last several years:

Fiscal Year
$ Amount (millions)

I can recall when there were those folks who felt that we had little or no chance of achieving success. What has transpired in the years since has been a great thing for the fire service. However, I would like to note that our glory years seem to be behind us. What I would also like to stress is that the dollar amounts initially proposed by the administration were smaller than what we actually received. We have had to battle each year for more.

We battled the entrenched federal bureaucracy to bring you the bounty which has come to be known as the Fire Act grants. The problems came from the upper level management people who have never really had any interest in the actual delivery of fire protection services. These people seem only to care about power and the prerogatives available at the highest levels of our federal government. Administrations come and go, but these folks remain.

A couple of years ago I wrote an article which urged our government folks in Washington to stop urinating on my leg and then providing me with a weather report indicating that rain is forecast for my neighborhood. I guess that no one was home the day that my message to them arrived.

There are those in government who begrudge the fire service its share of the pie. Sad to say, very few of us ever heard the faint scream when the baby of fire and emergency service preparedness was tossed out with the bureaucratic bathwater of the administration in Washington.

Right now our stock in the federal government is not selling at a good price. A great deal of effort is being spent on issues that only tangentially relate to what you and I do. We need to start back at the grassroots level to rebuild an awareness of our importance to the infrastructure of America within our Congress members and Senators.

Each of us has to make a call to our Congressman. Call their district office and ask to speak with the member of their staff who deals with fire-related issues. If they say that no one has that job, offer to be that person.

I am an American Firefighter my friends. My friends and I play a critical role in our society each and every day of the year. We fight fires and assist in the performance of automobile extrication. We operate fire apparatus and labor hard to save lives. We deliver babies and comfort the weary.

If the past is truly the prologue for our future, my friends you and I will continue to be first on the scene of tragedies and disasters of all sorts. We only want what we need and deserve.

Perhaps the current administration, as personified by President Bush fails to recognize that every time our funding is cut a disservice is being done to those folks who serve daily on the front lines of our nation. Perhaps no one mentioned about all of the fire personnel who have been hired under SAFER. The City of Paterson, New Jersey was able to hire more than three score new firefighters.