The Cowboy and the Buffalo: A Federal Government Story

April 10, 2006
There must be something special in the air out there across our great nation.

There must be something special in the air out there across our great nation. People have been sharing their innermost feelings and bitches with me, and their numbers seem to be growing. Many different stories have arrived at my home over the past two weeks which had a great deal to do with the federal government and people's feelings about the government.

Before I get to the heart of my message, I would like to share with you a bit of humor which a buddy from the Midwest shared with me. Each person to whom I forwarded this gem agreed with me that it seems to ring true with them and their feelings about the folks who appear to be running the show in our nation's capitol. Here it is:

A cowboy walks into a local cafe with a shotgun in one hand pulling a male bull with the other. He says to the waiter, "One cup of coffee please." The waiter says, "Sure thing partner, one cup of coffee coming right up." He gets the cowboy a tall mug of coffee. The cowboy drinks the coffee down in one gulp, turns and blasts the bull with the shotgun, causing parts of the animal to splatter every where, then just walks out.

The next morning the cowboy returns to the same cafe. He has his shotgun in one hand pulling another male bull with the other. He walks up to the counter and says to the waiter, "One cup of coffee please." The waiter says, "No way buddy! We're still cleaning up your mess from yesterday. What was all that about anyway?"

The cowboy smiles and proudly says, "I am in training for an upper-level management position in the United States Government. My training is fairly simple and straightforward. Come in, drink coffee, shoot the bull, and leave the mess for others to clean up. Then disappear for the rest of the day." I was just practicing my assignment.

Sad to say, this seems right to me.

Over the past several days I have read numerous messages talking about cuts to the Fire Act Program and the non-funding of the SAFER program for fire service staffing. Then after all of these negative, nonsense messages, another round of messages began rolling in trumpeting the kick off date for the 2006 Fire Act.

I like the logic there my friends. We have less to give you, so be sure that more of you apply for the largess of the federal government. I am sorry my friends, but I am just a bit sick and tired of the constant battle to cut the legs off of the fire and emergency service world.

Last week's educational sessions, which were held in concert with the Congressional Fire Caucus Dinner, were equally dissatisfying. I hate to start bashing the people with the money, but I am just a little bit tired of being treated like somebody's idiot uncle. I am tired of people who do not know what I do telling me that they love me and know what I need. I already know what to do and am pretty certain that I know how it should be done, and what is needed to do it.

Do you know what really bothers me about this whole federal government bashing business? Innocent people get caught in the stampede. A great many really neat people will be tarred with the brush of blame along with those people who are the real guts of the problem. It is not my friends and associates throughout the system who are the real problem. They are doing a great job. However, their efforts are often lost in the midst of the endless array of bad press generated by the people who care more for power than people.

It is my fervent belief that the problems we are facing today come from the upper level management people who really have no interest in the actual delivery of services (read that bureaucrats) to the end user. They care only about the power and prerogatives available at the highest levels of our federal government. There is something really sad going on within the ranks of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The faces keep changing, the names of the bureaus keep changing, and the level of understanding about what the fire and emergency services world really does continues to plummet. Unfortunately the message remains the same. We love you, oh how we dearly love you, but we do not think you deserve any real money: or more frequently, what have you done for me lately?

A couple of years ago I wrote an article which urged our government folks in Washington to stop urinating on my leg and then providing me with a weather report indicating that rain is forecast for my neighborhood. I guess that no one was home the day that my message to them arrived. Maybe they were drinking coffee or holding bovine target practice.

There seems to be no real sense to the ways in which people at the highest levels of the federal pyramid operate. How many of you saw the articles over the last few weeks which have told of the mad dash that FEMA is making toward the hurricane season finish line for 2006? There are apparently hundreds of unfilled positions. Gee, I wonder why?

My friend David Paulison is laboring valiantly to fill them. I admire him for his zeal and devotion to duty. Apparently President Bush agrees with me. He has nominated David to be the new Undersecretary for Emergency Management. I would ask each and every one of you to speak with your Senators to express your support for him. His record merits our strongest support.

David is an honest and sincere servant of the people. He has been there at the eye of the storm and knows the score. However, he has been placed in an unenviable position by people who would not know a natural disaster if someone managed to tuck one into their pants. You know, sort of a natural disaster-sized butt-wedgy.

Unfortunately all of this nonsense should never have happened. FEMA was good at what they did. Under the Clinton Administration the early mistakes which FEMA made were followed by a learning curve that brought them to a new level of excellence. It was a strong, independent agency that could get things done. I was privileged to tell James Lee Witt that on more than one occasion.

Sadly, the first thing I recall happening after the Bush Administration took over is that FEMA was shown the back door and placed near the woodshed and the dog house. In the post-September 11 rush to battle terrorists, FEMA was relegated to a side closet in the newly-created Department of Homeland Security.

Totally dissimilar agencies were lumped together in the name of battling terror. The people that knew what they were doing were subjugated to a wide array of career bureaucrats who neither knew nor cared about the fire and emergency service world. Everyone and their brother jumped on the homeland security/weapons of mass destruction bandwagon.

Somewhere along the way, In the midst of all of this juggling and bureaucratic gamesmanship, the FEMA ball was dropped. It joined the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Academy as odd attachments to this new DHS mega-bureaucracy. I want you to know that this is happening at other levels of government, not just our friends within the Beltway.

In New Jersey, our newly-elected Governor Jon Corzine just received the report of a transition task force put in place after his election to study homeland security issues in within New Jersey state government. There is an endless array of meaningless babbling lodged within the 14 pages of nonsense churned out by an array of lawyers and security.

They actually included a line in their report which states, "...first responders will always be on the front line of any emergency be it a natural disaster, catastrophic event, health pandemic, or terrorist attack." Well if we are so damned important in the scheme of things, why were there no fire or EMS people on that task force? Oh, and by the way, I, like all of my buddies in the fire service, am a firefighter not some amorphous first-responder.

Everyone seems to think that they know what is good for us, and yet none of these people have ever walked a mile in our moccasins. Heck, there may even be a plan afoot to put the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety under the State Police. I sure as hell hope that rumor is wrong.

Police are great at what they do. EMS people have to work really hard to maintain their skills and be good at what they do. Firefighters need to tend to their own knitting in the world of fire, hazardous materials response, technical rescue and a whole bunch of other critical tasks. Each of us should become good at what we do and then form solid teams with the others who are good at what they do.

It is critical for us to remember that we are all different. Our needs are different and our training requirements are different. The problems with coordinating our efforts come at the local level, not at some upper state or federal level. How can the State of New Jersey hope to succeed by emulating and/or duplicating the raft of errors committed at the federal level by the bureaucrats in Washington? Bigger is not better.

I can only shake my head as I head up the street to roll out to the daily emergencies which require the services of our Adelphia Fire Company. I have never seen any of these so-called experts at my side as I moved a fire hose into a burning building, climbed a ladder to ventilate a roof, or operated a fire department pumper. Neither, I would imagine have my buddies. But these are the folks who know what is best for me. Bull ----!

Now back to our friends at the federal level. Sad to say, very few of us heard the faint scream when the baby of fire and emergency service preparedness was tossed out with the "we don't care about fire service concerns" bathwater of the bureaucrats on the Potomac. If our stock in the federal government was any lower my friends, we would be selling somewhere within a subbasement of the Titanic (in its current location).

I hear stories about the yeoman service being provided by members of our National Fire Academy faculty and staff as part of the federal FEMA Empire. What a lot of horse manure. Do you really think that I am pleased to know that our highly paid administrators were handing out motel towels in disaster areas all over the southern part of our great nation?

Why were they not doing the jobs for which they are most eminently qualified? If there are not enough disaster responders, hire disaster responders, do not send out our fire service teachers and administrators to do buggy-lugging, and menial labor and administrative work.

There will be those who take me to task over this commentary. Have at it. Come on and get me. I am sick and tired of being taken for granted by my government. You know that would be the very same government that I personally served for more than 24 years of active and reserve service in the military of our great nation. I am a retired U.S. Army Reserve officer and a Vietnam veteran. I haved earned a serviceman's right to speak on this one.

Damn it, I am not a first responder; I am an American Firefighter (See my 2001 article on this topic). I do not mitigate things. I fight fire, perform automobile extrication, drive pumpers and save lives; and if the past is truly the prologue for our future, my friends and I will continue to be first on the scene of tragedies and disasters of all sorts. If you find my stand on this position to be politically incorrect: tough Tortugas.

Do not tell me how much you love me or what a great guy I am. Buy my turnout gear! Provide the funding for more staff for me. Return the Federal Emergency Management Agency to independent status and restore it to its former position of operational strength and efficiency.

Above all, do not make our National Fire Academy the governmental equivalent of an appendix stapled onto the colon of the federal government. Return it a place of concentrated fire and emergency services educational excellence! Restore our Fire Administration to its proper status.

Sadly my friends, I do not see one chance in hell of anyone admitting that creating the Department of Homeland Security was a serious error in judgment. We are being served by people who see themselves as perfect. We are being led by those who feel that they can do no wrong. Yeah, and I am not fat. Ha!

My friends, I have been approached on more than one occasion to take an active role in the affairs of FEMA and the National Fire Academy. I thought about going to work there on more than one occasion. However the one thing, more than any other, that mitigated against me making that monumental move was the admonition that I had to play my role according to the tenets of the company line.

Sorry gang. That is not how I live my life. If I don't believe in something, I can

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