When the federal government tries to enact legislation or do something that may adversely affect the fire service, it’s important to make lawmakers understand the impact of their actions.
That’s the rationale for hosting the annual Illinois Fire Service Home Day events, says Paul Darley, president and CEO of W.S. Darley & Co., who just last week served as chairman of the seventh annual event.
Held at the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System’s (MABAS) Readiness Center in Wheeling, Ill., the event was attended by more than 150 people including state and federal lawmakers and many of their staff members.
“It’s critically important for us to have legislators who can mobilize very quickly when an issue arises,” said Darley who has been the chairman of each of the annual events. “When an issue comes up, we have 100 fire chiefs and the ears of Congressmen and staffers to react.”
Too often, the government moves to cut funding for programs like the Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) FireAct and SAFER grant programs without fully realizing the effects such actions might have on firefighters and the fire service, Darley said.
“Through events like this, we can mobilize with one voice,” Darley said. “It really is what I call a grassroots effort.”
The Illinois Home Day event, which was held on June 14, was sponsored by the Metropolitan Fire Chief’s Association of Illinois which partnered with the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) and the Fire and Emergency Manufacturers and Services Association (FEMSA).
For the past several years, FAMA and FEMSA have made legislative lobbying a priority of both organizations. In fact, they joined common efforts and goals to create the FAMA/FEMSA Governmental Advisory Council (GAC).
The goal of the GAC is to monitor legislation and programs that affect the fire service and enact legislation beneficial for all FAMA and FEMSA members.
The bigger and more overriding mission is to promote communications and relationships between the two organizations in regard to common legislative goals.
One of the GAC’s initiatives is to promote home days in states to influence lawmakers locally, among their constituents.
During the Illinois Home Day, 13 vendors of fire service-related goods were on hand to show lawmakers and their staffs items they make and how they are used in firefighting and rescue work, Darley said, noting it gives legislators the opportunity to truly see what the equipment does.
Darley said by exposing lawmakers to the fire service, it makes the equipment and the people who use it real and, perhaps makes them pause when they consider legislation that may cut fire service grants and funding.
“They realize there are constituents who might be affected by their actions,” Darley said.
For last week’s event, U.S. Congressman Peter Roskam, a Republican representing the Sixth District of Illinois, was the keynote speaker, according to Darley, who said Roskam is also a member of the Congressional Fire Service Caucus.
Other speakers included: James Reardon, Executive Director of MABAS; Hank Clemmensen, First Vice President of the lnternational Association of Fire Chiefs; Don Mobley, Fire Grant Specialist, US Department of Homeland Security; and Larry Matkaitis, Illinois State Fire Marshal.
“We had an incredibly successful day,” Darley said, commenting that planning for the eighth annual Home Day event is already underway. He said next year, attendees will be given a firefighting experience and use much of the equipment firefighters use daily.