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My Annual Class Trip to Washington: Time Well-Spent

Home is the writer, home from the capital of his great nation. Yes my friends, I am recently returned from my annual pilgrimage to the Congressional Fire Caucus Dinner in Washington, D.C. It is funny how my experience at these events can vary greatly from year to year. Let me assure you that this year’s edition was a truly outstanding one.

Kudos to Bill Webb and his fine staff at the Congressional Fire Services Institute. The events conducted in conjunction with the dinner and this year’s edition of this important occasion were well done. The seminars and panel discussions covered a wide variety of this year’s important issues. More than that, the interaction between and among the attendees was as good as ever I saw it.

As usual, my friend Dennis Compton proved himself to be an effective and capable master of ceremonies for the dinner. It is always a challenging task to keep what Dennis calls the “…table chatter” under control. However, Dennis manages to do it quite well indeed. Let me also say that this year’s Keynote Speaker J. Charles Johnson gave those in attendance great cause to welcome him to the lead role as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. His message of support was well-received.

It is always important to assess the support given to us by our friends in the Congress of the United States.  Senator Tom Carper’s visit with us was a mix of folksy, Delaware humor and solid political support. Representative Steny Hoyer showed us once again why he is a man upon whom we can depend to carry on the fight on our behalf in the legislative halls of Congress.

Representative Peter King gave thanks for all that America’s Fire Service has accomplished. He promised us his solid support for things we hope to accomplish. As always Representative Bill Pascrell from New Jersey led the way in his usual solid and supportive manner. This son of the Garden State has led the way over the years in our battle for continued federal funding for the AFG and SAFER programs.

I was heartened by the way in which our Congressional Fire Caucus leaders shared their thoughts with us. The words of our Congressional friends gave a hearty thank you to those of us in attendance us for all that we have done in the year just past. More than that they promised their ardent, personal support for all that you and I hope to achieve in the year to come.

It was also a great night for me personally. I was able to share in the joy of friends who received prestigious national awards at the caucus dinner.  As I said in a Twitter post, this is a night to share with your friends in the fire service. It is hard to believe how long I have been working in the fire service.  It is also hard to believe how long some of my friends and I have been working together on the many tasks associated with making the fire service a better and safer place to be.

Perhaps the personal high point of the night was when my dear friend Mary Marchione from the National Fire Academy received the Dr. Anne W. Phillips Award for Leadership in Fire Safety Education. Having had the privilege of working with Mary in the International Society of Fire Service Instructors, I was well aware of her devotion to every aspect of fire safety education and its impact upon safety within the public whom we are charged to protect.

It is my privilege to have known Mary her since her days with the Montgomery County, Md., Fire Department back in the 1970’s. Her dedication to her core values has shown foremost in all of her efforts to improve fire prevention and life safety efforts in a wide array of venues.  In addition I would like to offer a word of heartfelt thanks to Nancy Trench on her moving introduction of Mary.  It brought a tear to my eye.

Memphis Fire Department EMS Deputy Chief Gary Ludwig, another longtime friend, took to the stage to accept the Excellence in Fire Service-Based EMS award for career fire departments.  I first met Gary during his years in the St. Louis Fire Department. He and I have worked together on a number of projects over the years.  He has been a leader in the EMS community for a long time now.

As a life member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), it was indeed pleasing to see Mr. James Shannon, our retiring President, honored with the Mason Langford Fire Service Leadership Award.  As one of the old timers who knew Mason and got to appreciate his hard work first hand, I know the importance of this award to our fire service.  Each of the winners of this prestigious award has lived a life of service.

It is important for as many of you as possible to make the trip to Washington, D.C. each year.  We need to continue to show our support for those in Congress who work so hard for our fire and emergency service needs.  We also need to show our support on a continuing basis for the Congressional Fire Service Caucus.  They are out there every day working on our behalf and sharing the important message that the American Fire Service is a critical element in the operational infrastructure of our great nation.

Join me next year in Washington.  I will be there. Will you?

HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Contributing Editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department and is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Follow Harry on his "A View From my Front Porch" blog. You can reach Harry by e-mail at