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Answer: The fire service has an association and organization for every emergency function and interest - from the IAFF to SEFO to IFSTA. However, there is one entity that can be a common voice for the fire service on certain issues that affect us all: the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI).
We all experience the daily departmental and community pressures, which appear to involve most of our time and attention. With the increasing number of roles each department must fulfill locally, it is difficult to think about a national agenda. The fire service must speak collectively on certain aspects of this national agenda. If your department is now receiving funding support from the Fire Grant Program, then you know one example of how this national agenda can contribute to our local needs.
Here is a fact that we in the fire service cannot escape: the world is becoming smaller daily. We simply cannot escape the big picture. The events of 9/11 have demonstrated this to us all in the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security. Thanks to instantaneous communication, the Internet and the proliferation of information, every group or individual that touches the fire service - nationally, globally or locally - can instantly become more knowledgeable about and involved in our business.
It is our responsibility to make certain that such involvement is constructive and supportive. One can even say that this is one of the main reasons to understand and apply the marketing discipline to a public emergency service. The more knowledgeable our citizens become about a particular service, the more involved they become. When they are paying for goods and services, especially in a tough economy, they can become very interested in the value their dollars are delivering.
This really emphasizes a key issue we all must face: consistency and effectiveness of our agenda cannot only be advanced in good economic times. It must move forward all of the time. Our individual and collective futures are linked together. This is true for the largest metropolitan department and the smallest one-station volunteer company. The CFSI acts as a common thread between national organizations to provide information to decision makers at the national level and to promote fire service issues.
This past April, I had the privilege of hosting a small meeting at my house in Tampa requested by Denny Compton, a giant in his contributions to the fire service and past chair of CFSI. We met with Alan Caldwell, present chair, and Bill Webb, executive director. Our purpose was to discuss CFSI and crafting the organization's message. The CFSI is an important piece of the future success of the fire service in gaining support at the national level.
Thanks to the vision of Congressman Curt Weldon (R-Pennsylvania), a former volunteer fire chief, the CFSI was formed to become the working arm of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. With 300 members, it is the largest on the Hill. CFSI is constantly working to enhance its effectiveness. CFSI was created in 1989 to help the members of Congress better understand the roles, needs and challenges of the Fire and EMS Services. Webb, the executive director for the past seven years, is the hard-working, intelligent and exceedingly responsive individual who leads the CFSI's daily efforts. In addition to his small, but effective staff, CFSI receives guidance and support from a National Advisory Committee. Separate from the CFSI Board of Directors, the committee is composed of 48 member organizations that provide input and counsel to CFSI.