Imagine for a Moment - Legislation in Texas

What would you think if you read this tomorrow morning in your morning paper or on your iPhone?

WASHINGTON (UPI) April 24, 2013 - The Pentagon announced yesterday that because of cutbacks in defense funding and the limited time that National Guard and Reserve units have available for training, new rules are being put together that will allow these part-time units to go into battle with little or no training.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said during a press conference yesterday that while regular Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine units will still be required to meet stringent training requirements, because the Guard and Reserve units are only part time, they don’t really need to train at all.

“They can get all the training the need when they go into battle because there are still older members on the roster who have enough experience to teach new enlistees, and because they are only part time, except when they are called up, they can spend their active duty weekends and summer camps maintaining the equipment and even doing fund raising,” said Hagel.

“It costs money to properly train the troops and with funds short because of the sequester budget cuts, we don’t need to waste money on training that may or may not be needed,” continued Hagel.

Members of Congress immediately released statements questioning the action, saying that in times of emergency, these units are expected to perform up to the standards of regular military units.

“The enemy does not differentiate between regular and part-time units,” said Senator John Dugg (D-OH), citing the fact that the National Guard and Reserve units are serving right now on the front lines in Afghanistan and South Korea.

“Well,” said Hagel, “If we make them train all the time, we would not get any volunteers to enlist so, that’s why I’ve asked the president to push for legislation to make sure that the Defense Department removes all requirements for training—actually to make it illegal for us to require any standards at all for Guard and Reserve unit personnel.”

Think about that story for a moment and think about how that would affect our nation’s security, and how many troops would be lost in battle while trying to fight while learning how to fire a weapon.

Pretty absurd, isn’t it? Could you imagine the U.S. Congress letting the Defense Department get away with such an impractical plan?

Well, check out what’s happening in Texas. Right now, the State Senate is moving to enact SB-766 that does what was just described.

And incredibly, the bill is being vigorously supported by the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas (SFFMA), as well.

The bill prohibits the state from regulating any volunteer fire department and prohibits the state from requiring a volunteer firefighter or industrial emergency response team member to obtain a license or certification.  

The SFFMA says that the bill will, “make it clear, once and for all, that the state should not impose mandatory licensing, regulation and red tape on volunteer firefighters."

The group claims that in these tough economic times, it has become increasingly difficult to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters and, “those that do, should not have to ask Austin bureaucrats for permission first!”

While paid firefighters in Texas will still have to be certified to NFPA Firefighter I and II standards, the volunteers want no such encumbrances to their firefighting activities.

The SFFMA still encourages volunteers to get as much formal training as possible, but does not want the lack of training to stand in the way of facing the red devil. 

It seems to me that because many states mandate certain levels of training before a firefighter can don gear at a fire, and with nationwide standards such as NFPA 1001, mandating basic and advance skills training, it is beyond all rational thought that no matter how well intended, this bill would allow inexperienced firefighters to operate in dangerous environments.

I wonder how many Texas oil companies hire inexperienced folks off the street and then allow them to operate refineries with no training.  Heck, it’s just switches and levers, anyone with a bit of sense can run them, right?

Understanding that yes, some volunteer fire departments struggle with budgets and yes, finding time to train can be a problem, but cutting corners when firefighter safety and well-being is concerned is unacceptable.

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives are simple rules that were put together to save firefighter lives.

It can’t be said any better or more succinctly than #5:  Develop and implement national standards for training, qualifications, and certification (including regular recertification) that are equally applicable to all firefighters based on the duties they are expected to perform.

Anything less and the lawyers will be making a lot of money.

The 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives

  1. Define and advocate the need for a cultural change within the fire service relating to safety; incorporating leadership, management, supervision, accountability and personal responsibility.
  2. Enhance the personal and organizational accountability for health and safety throughout the fire service.
  3. Focus greater attention on the integration of risk management with incident management at all levels, including strategic, tactical, and planning responsibilities.
  4. All firefighters must be empowered to stop unsafe practices.
  5. Develop and implement national standards for training, qualifications, and certification (including regular recertification) that are equally applicable to all firefighters based on the duties they are expected to perform.
  6. Develop and implement national medical and physical fitness standards that are equally applicable to all firefighters, based on the duties they are expected to perform.
  7. Create a national research agenda and data collection system that relates to the initiatives.
  8. Utilize available technology wherever it can produce higher levels of health and safety.
  9. Thoroughly investigate all firefighter fatalities, injuries, and near misses.
  10. Grant programs should support the implementation of safe practices and/or mandate safe practices as an eligibility requirement.
  11. National standards for emergency response policies and procedures should be developed and championed.
  12. National protocols for response to violent incidents should be developed and championed.
  13. Firefighters and their families must have access to counseling and psychological support.
  14. Public education must receive more resources and be championed as a critical fire and life safety program.
  15. Advocacy must be strengthened for the enforcement of codes and the installation of home fire sprinklers.
  16. Safety must be a primary consideration in the design of apparatus and equipment.