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Life is interesting, and life in the fire service is even more interesting than most. We comprise a combination of diverse organizations that together form the "American Fire Service." From the outside of our service, it can be difficult, if not impossible, at times to figure out how and where to check our collective pulse. Each of the major fire service membership and industry associations has its own separate set of goals and survival needs. It is challenging to determine what the fire service's single voice is on issues critical to all of us. It can even be difficult to figure out which issues we all agree are critical in the first place. There is no sense in complaining about this reality or throwing our hands up and walking away from the conflict this sometimes creates within our structure. That would be like giving up.
With all of that said, we must have ways and forums to develop position statements relating to critical issues that will significantly impact the fire service. The reality is that no single fire service organization has the universal credibility to speak on behalf of all. However, this is a legitimate role of the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) located in Washington, DC. In the past few years, the CFSI has matured and served as the catalyst for joint development of position papers, consistent education of policy-makers, and advocacy for major fire service causes. The CFSI has successfully emerged as the central leader for laying a conduit among fire service and other organizations so that there can be a common voice (or party line) on those few issues that directly affect the entire fire service.
There are several examples of this cooperation in the recent past. Most have related to:
- The FIRE Act and associated issues.
- The First Responder Act and associated initiatives.
- Homeland security.
- Spectrum and other communications issues.
- Technology transfer to the fire service.
- Partnership efforts with other organizations that have missions consistent with (or that might complement) the mission of the fire service.
The CFSI's ability to speak on issues such as these gives the Congressional Fire Service Caucus, as well as federal agency heads, the ability to act more consistently, confidently, and successfully on our behalf.
There are 48 members of the CFSI National Advisory Committee (NAC), each with its own agenda and the desire to serve its specific membership. Through its Executive director, Bill Webb, and with the assistance of the CFSI NAC Leadership Team, the CFSI has become a common thread among fire service organizations in an effort to represent only those most critical issues requiring a consistent fire service position. It is incumbent upon the fire service to support the CFSI in this role and incumbent upon the CFSI to carefully, deliberately and respectfully carry out that role when exercising its influence.
The fire service has not achieved the levels of success that we've hoped for over the years in our national efforts, but we have made progress. To do better, the individual fire service membership and industry associations must be able to effectively meet their individual leadership requirements. However, it is also critical that those individual, separate leaders support the CFSI's ability to play its critical role as well.
Recent history indicates that there is a willingness among NAC member organizations to cause this to happen. This will become even more important as the competition for resources and support in Washington gets more intense. How the fire service deals with national-level successes might be more telling of our character than how we've dealt with our national-level failures of the past. We all need to do our part or things won't get better. Thanks for your help.
Dennis Compton, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a well-known speaker and the author of the When In Doubt, Lead! series of books, as well as many other articles and publications. He is also the co-editor of the current edition of the ICMA's textbook titled, Managing Fire and Rescue Services. Compton currently serves as a national advocate and executive advisor for fire service and emergency management issues and organizations. He was the fire chief in Mesa, AZ, for five years and assistant fire chief in the Phoenix Fire Department, where he served for 27 years. He has been an active participant in the international fire service. Compton is the immediate past chair of the Executive Board of the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA), immediate past chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute's National Advisory Committee,and serves on the board of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).