IAFF's president attempted to rally the fire service at FDIC Thursday morning, calling for a united front against what he describes as "attacks" by local governments and members of Congress.
"Many of those in the audience are not members of our union, but we are all part of the same family," Harold Schaitberger, who has been president of the union since 2000, said. "This is all about us standing together."
The last election shifted the nation's politics, he said, adding that it hasn't been friendly for the fire service.
"They are taking aim at us and the new breed of politician doesn't have a problem with placing the blame on you for their deficits."
He told the crowd that budget cuts are resulting in career firefighters being laid off and volunteers losing subsidies and equipment upgrades.
"This is an assault not on reducing budgets but on having control. They want this union dead," he said. "It's not just about wages and benefits. It's also about equipment and safety."
He said that he realizes some chief officers are weary of the IAFF and believe that contract negotiations get in the way of their job, but reiterated that the fire service must come together.
"The stakes couldn't be higher for all of us, but it's an opportunity and defining moment for all of us to come together and make history," he said."We can't just sit back and watch this play out on the evening news."
Despite his disappointment in Congress, he lauded the effort to get rehires allowed to be paid for with SAFER funds.
"We can take a moment to celebrate that victory, but the reality is that we only held our own," he said. "We depend on government support at all levels," he said. "It's no longer possible for us to not care about politics."
He closed by saying that the union will continue to fight for the rights its members and for all firefighters.
"They want to silence our voice," he said. "Nothing is going to quiet this union. Nothing is going to silence our voice."
Other News from FDIC
The Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement went to retired Toledo Assistant Chief John "Skip" Colman.
"I'm truly humbled and honored," he said.
Clay Fire (South Bend, Ind.) Chief Brian P. Kazmierzak was recognized as the George D. Post Instructor of the Year.
During the opening of the general session, FDIC Education Director Bobby Halton recognized Ray Hoff, a former Chicago battalion chief and FDIC instructor who died on March 15.