Fire Politics: What’s Next?

May 1, 2019
Shane Ray shares his story and asks readers to consider whether they will also find themselves in the world of fire politics.

After attending legislative sessions and association meetings, visiting members of associations from Florida to Massachusetts over the last few weeks, and personally dealing with over 70 legislative issues that negatively impact the fire service and the future of fire protection in 28 states, I can’t help but ask the question, what’s next?

Fire Politics is a catchy title for this column and has a history that is extremely more significant than me. I can imagine Dennis Smith, Harvey Eisner and some members of their inner circles talking about the politics going on at the city, county, state and federal level back in the day. One of the people in that inner circle was Hal Bruno, a well-known news correspondent with access to the same room at times as the president of the United States. I can remember reading Hal’s column and being inspired to get involved, which I did through the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI). Never did I think I would be flying to Washington, D.C., on a near monthly basis, sitting with a group of fire service leaders making decisions on federal legislation or following Hal and Chief Dennis Compton in the writing of this column. I remain humbled. 

And speaking of being humbled, I recently had the chance to visit with NFPA President Jim Pauley and learn more about the NFPA Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem. This was in preparation for the 17th Annual Truman Legacy Symposium, hosted by the Key West Harry S. Truman Little White House Foundation, and the Truman Fire Forum, hosted by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. These two events will leave a legacy for public policy, which President Truman would more than likely be very pleased with. I hope and pray that what is next for this convening of significant organizations for the advancement of the fire service and fire protection is another presidential commissioned report on the past, present and future of public policy in regard to fire in America. 

From homes to high-rises, from cancer to behavioral health, from wildland fires to accessory dwelling unit fires, and from the smallest local entity of government to every statehouse and the halls of Congress, what’s next? There are many organizations actively engaged in all facets of these aspects of the industry, and everyone is making a difference. As I watch the Florida fire service rally around issues from cancer to high-rise fires as well as dedicate their new firefighters memorial or its fire sprinkler contractors conduct a press event on the affordability of retrofitting high-rise condominiums, I see so many people working to make a difference. As I attend the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts conference and listen to their lively discussions about upcoming legislation and celebrate their judicial victory of rehab homes having to meet a more stringent code than a single-family dwelling, I beam with happiness that there are so many people actively engaged in fire politics every day. 

My story: From Eastern Kentucky University to Lockheed Martin at the K-25 and Y-12 Fire Departments in Oak Ridge, TN, to being the volunteer fire chief in the fantastic little community of Pleasant View, TN, and a career fire officer in Brentwood, TN. From the Marlow Volunteer Fire Department to the Clinton Fire Department, to Clarendon County Fire & Rescue in South Carolina, to the Chelsea Volunteer Fire Company in New York. From my first CFSI event to serving in the grants program and being in D.C. on behalf of the ISFSI. From superintendent of the great South Carolina Fire Academy to the honorable service to Governor Nikki Haley and the citizens and fire service of South Carolina as their state fire marshal. From the Board of the ISFSI and IAFC to the president of NFSA. There can’t be a more blessed guy in this profession than me. It isn’t because of the positions or places above; it’s because of YOU—the people who have made a difference in my life and career. YOU have provided the support, inspiration and encouragement for me to do what’s next.

I pray your “what’s next?” continues to make a difference, and I pray that our paths keep crossing on this path of fire politics. We must stay engaged, be involved and use our influence for good. Our communities are counting on us.

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