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This being the January 2013 edition of the Fire Politics column, it is interesting to contemplate what could happen this year in politics to significantly benefit the fire service. I have learned over the years to keep my lists short and realistic to avoid being frustrated come the end of December. My list identifies wishes that are quite challenging, but doable if there is the political and leadership will to do so.
Let’s look at my three wishes for this year. They are not in order of importance because each adds value in its own way.
Wish 1: Stop blaming us
Public employees are taking a beating from some elected officials at the local, state and national levels. Attacks have been vicious and characterize public employees, including firefighters, in ways that are simply insulting. Some people are inclined to ignore reckless behavior by Wall Street, lack of oversight by politicians and unregulated behavior by banks and other financial institutions when assigning responsibility for our nation’s financial crisis. Instead, they blame firefighters and other public employees.
There has been a focused attempt to brand firefighters and public employees in general (and their unions) as enemies of the “working class” based on twisted facts, lies and biased assertions. It’s quite possible that there could be more of these lies and attacks in 2013 and beyond. My wish is that fire service leaders (not just the union), as well as elected officials who support firefighters and other public employees, will re-double their efforts to publicly and collectively stand up to these accusers and set the record straight. All Americans share in the responsibility to help the nation recover from the “great recession,” including the members of the fire service, but firefighters and other public employees did not cause it.
Wish 2: Give us our money back
Congress and the Administration have a lot of work to do in 2013 that directly impacts the fire service. This includes legislation authorizing programs and appropriating funds for the FIRE and SAFER Grant Programs, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) and other programs and issues.
Fire service leaders should be extremely concerned about declines in USFA funding that also affect the ability of the National Fire Academy (NFA) to deliver its mission. My wish is that the leaders of our major fire organizations develop and support a focused, joint effort in 2013 to work with Congress and the Administration to restore all of the eliminated annual funding to the USFA and NFA.
Wish 3: Keep us safe
The economy has strained local, state and federal budgets. Consolidations, reductions in force, pay and benefits, minimized capital expenditures and other spending cuts have been part of plans that enabled many government entities to survive financially. Unions, fire chiefs and other department members have helped make these strategies work and should be proud to have assumed leadership roles in the process.
However, what continues to be troubling is the inclination of some decision-makers to dismiss the relevance of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards and other regulations that guide the fire service in regard to deployment models, staffing and other issues. My wish is that the leaders of fire unions, as well as fire chiefs and the membership at large, make it clear to all decision-makers that knowingly placing firefighters in situations that seriously compromises their safety for financial reasons is not acceptable.
I could have added many wishes to my list, but I selected just three that I think would make a significant difference in the fire service as a whole. They can all come to pass if the major fire service organizations work together to make them happen. One of the best ways to do that is through the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI). There has never been a more important time for the fire service to support the CFSI and their efforts on behalf of the fire service. The 25th annual CFSI Fire and Emergency Services Dinner is May 9 in Washington, DC. The goal for this 25th anniversary is that 2,500 representatives of the fire service attend the dinner and the excellent seminars that are offered.