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But, volunteer fire departments can't afford to ignore the political leadership of their communities. There needs to be creative thinking about how to maintain political support without running afoul of these strict tax regulations. The most important way to accomplish this is through the individual efforts of department members themselves. Volunteers, even more than career firefighters, may participate in campaign activities as individuals because there are no employment-related restrictions.
Departments also should make certain that their doors are open to visits from community and political leaders. Private tours and meetings also should be offered so that these leaders can learn about the services that the department provides to the community, as well as the department's needs. Politicians, literally from the President to the most local officeholder, recognize the importance of the fire department to the community and generally are more than willing to make such visits. Such visits should, however, be focused on the department and its activities. They should not be scheduled for the purpose of trying to influence the outcome of any legislative activity. Charitable organizations also are prohibited from making substantial efforts to influence legislation of any type.
Fire departments that have charitable tax status must be careful to avoid becoming involved in any kind of campaign or political activity. But, they cannot afford to be totally oblivious to their political environment. And, their members, like all other firefighters, should be aware of, and involved in, the local political scene.