It’s Going, Going, Gone! A Fire & Emergency Services Home Run!

The week of April 15, 2002, was a special time in Washington, D.C. Some dreams of many who are part of (or attached to) the American fire and emergency services were celebrated. Our light in Washington shone brighter than ever before. Yes, the fire service was wounded by the terrorist attacks of the past year, but we are moving forward - even though we still have a long way to go. In fact, we will never complete the journey. Progress through politics is an ongoing process.

Photo by Chuck Snyder
President George W. Bush was the keynote speaker and Firehouse® Magazine Contributing Editor Hal Bruno was the master of ceremonies at this year's 14th annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner.

As you know, the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) has been in existence for a decade and a half. For the past 14 years, the CFSI has conducted an annual dinner in Washington to acknowledge fire and emergency services professionals, raise funds to operate the CFSI, and thank those who serve in Congress and various federal agencies for their support. The Congressional Fire Services Caucus has over 340 members of the Senate and House of Representatives, making it the largest congressional caucus.

The CFSI is led by a board of directors, an executive director, Bill Webb, with a small staff, and a National Advisory Committee (NAC) consisting of representatives of over 45 organizations involved in the fire and emergency services industry. Most of you are members of one (or more) of these organizations, so you are directly connected to the CFSI through the memberships.

The primary mission of the CFSI includes educating Congress and federal agencies, providing information, serving as a conduit to join fire service organizations around common issues and legislation, and to communicate with members of Congress, federal agencies, and with others inside and outside the fire and emergency services community.

It has taken many years, and a lot of work by those associated with the CFSI, to build a process that has evolved from everyone's past and present efforts. I have never been to a CFSI event or a National Advisory Committee meeting that made me more proud than the ones conducted in April. Following are a few examples of what you enjoyed if you attended and missed if you didn't:

  • Thursday, April 18, was packed full of interesting, well-attended workshops dealing with the FIRE Act, legislative processes and other critical elements of CFSI involvement.
  • The Chair's Reception (held before the dinner) was honored by the attendance of many dignitaries, including Israel's homeland security director.
  • The theme of the dinner this year was "Protecting Our Nation." Over 2,000 people attended the dinner, which was keynoted by President George W. Bush, who delivered an exceptional speech that included his pledge of support for the fire and emergency services.
  • Hal Bruno did an outstanding job moderating the dinner program. Speakers included caucus leaders such as Congressmen Curt Weldon, Steny Hoyer and Robert Andrews, as well as Senators Paul Sarbanes and Joe Biden. Many other members of the Senate and House of Representatives were also in attendance.
  • The CFSI "Fire Service Organization of the Year" award was presented to the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). It was a very moving tribute to a very deserving organization.
  • I had the privilege of announcing a new addition to the CFSI family of awards, "The Educator Hero Award," sponsored by the Lowe's Home Safety Council in cooperation with the CFSI and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). It will be presented for the first time at the 2003 CFSI dinner.
  • It was also my honor to present the CFSI "Legislator of the Year" award to Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia for his tireless work this past year to increase FIRE Act funding.
  • The CFSI/Motorola "Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership " award was presented posthumously to Chief Raymond Downey of the FDNY. Ray's wife and children accepted the award on his behalf. Their comments touched everyone in the audience, especially those of us lucky enough to have known Ray as a friend and fellow firefighter.

What an evening! The dinner was a celebration of the fire and emergency services, a celebration of the contributions and sacrifices of so many people throughout our history, especially over this past year. Hal Bruno kept the program on time as promised, completing dinner and all the speakers shortly after 10 P.M. At CFSI expense, a beautiful portrait was created by Chas Fagan, and all attendees received their own print. The centerpieces were wonderful FDNY model fire stations. They were provided courtesy of IFSTA/Fire Protection Publications at Oklahoma State University. Throughout the afternoon, a silent auction offered attendees tremendous bargains on some generously donated prizes.

On the morning of Friday, April 19, the CFSI National Advisory Committee conducted its business meeting. David Paulison, the U.S. fire administrator, spoke to the group, as did Ron Siarnicki, the executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Meri-K Appy, the vice president of public education for NFPA, gave an overview of the 2002 Fire Prevention Week theme, "Team Up For Fire Safety," and described the 2002 campaign. The other speakers and the balance of the business agenda made for an excellent meeting.

As I transitioned that morning to the role of immediate past chair of the CFSI National Advisory Committee, Alan Caldwell of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) was elected chair and Steve Edwards from the University of Maryland was elected vice chair. The future of the National Advisory Committee is in good hands with these two new officers!

The main reason that I wrote this article was to share with you the importance of the CFSI, the Congressional Fire Services Caucus and the CFSI National Advisory Committee to the future of our service. It is easy to sit out in the world and say "someone oughta," yet it is another thing to become those "someones" who try to make a difference and raise the bar of success for the fire service politically. I saw a lot of people doing that (moving towards greater success) in Washington in April.

The most satisfying thing for me in recent years concerning the CFSI has been the ability of Executive Director Bill Webb and other fire service leaders to form a much-needed cohesiveness among fire service organizations on issues of major concern to us all. It is incumbent on the leadership of the major fire service organizations, all of whom are represented on the CFSI National Advisory Committee, to ensure that they do not initiate nor condone actions within their individual organizations that creates division among us once again in Washington.

We should hold our leaders accountable for the overall negative effect divisiveness has on the entire fire and emergency services, as well as the confusion this creates for those who support us in Congress and within federal agencies. We have come too far in recent years to slide backwards towards a collective voice of impotence in influencing the national agenda. I have confidence that our fire service leaders cherish their collective progress in Washington and realize the importance of continuing to move forward on major issues - together!

As we continue to mourn the horrible losses that we in the fire service have incurred over this past year, it was a wonderful experience to celebrate those sacrifices and our overall achievements as well. Whether your fire service involvement focuses on prevention, public education, emergency response, or any of the support areas critical to the fire and emergency services overall success, you would have been proud to be among the huge group that participated in the CFSI's 2002 events in Washington in April. As the CFSI stepped to the plate to pay tribute to our past and inspire us to the future, they hit the ball clear out of the park. We have come so far, yet we have so far to go. See you at the 2003 CFSI Dinner, if not before. Be careful!

Dennis Compton, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire chief in Mesa, AZ. He previously served as assistant fire chief in the Phoenix Fire Department. During a career that spans 32 years, Compton has been involved in many fire service and civic organizations. He is a well-known speaker and is the author of many publications, including a series of books titled When In Doubt, Lead. Compton is immediate past chair of the Executive Board of the International Fire Service Training Association and immediate past chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute's National Advisory Committee, and serves on the board of the National Fire Protection Association. He is a charter member of the Arizona Fire Service Hall of Fame.