Seeding the Caucus

Dec. 27, 2010

Transitioning to the next U.S. Congress is necessary following every election, and the 2010 midterms are no exception. Moving in, moving out, and a steep learning curve for new members and their staffs create a great deal of energy and pose a number of challenges. Even with all of this, it always seems to get done, people end up where they are supposed to be (for the most part) and the business of governing goes on in our nation's capital. This transition process also creates the need for the fire service to work on providing support to the Congressional Fire Services Caucus.

According to staff at the Washington, DC-based Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI), the Congressional Fire Services Caucus is the largest caucus in Congress with about 325 members. Founded in 1987, the Caucus brings Democrats and Republicans together to work in support of legislation that benefits firefighters throughout the country. The Caucus is critical to bringing fire service-related issues that have national implications to the forefront and ensuring the attention of Congress in addressing them.

The natural attrition of members of Congress, as well as the results of the 2010 midterm elections, has left some work for the national fire service to do in restoring the level of Caucus membership that was present in the 111th Congress. According to CFSI Government Affairs Director Sean Carroll, between retirements from Congress and decisions to seek other elected offices, 28 members of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus were lost, including nine senators. In addition, 34 Caucus members lost their bids for re-election. All were members of the House of Representatives. The results of one Senate race in Alaska had not been certified at this writing, but it is possible that this election could result in the loss of an additional Caucus member. This total of 62 lost Caucus members represents a significant number as Congress prepares to start work this month. Therefore, we in the fire service need to get to work to restore the level of Congressional Fire Services Caucus membership we have enjoyed in past years.

To the credit of its leaders, the Caucus has consistently addressed fire service issues in a spirit of bipartisanship. This is critical to the success of the Caucus because fire service issues are not solely Democratic or Republican issues — they are America's issues. It doesn't matter which party is in power at any given time in the Senate, the House of Representatives or the Administration. Bottom line, for the fire service to achieve success in the long-term at the national level of government, a strong Caucus is critical.

So what can we do to regain the lost Caucus membership? It won't happen by chance. Members of the fire service need to go to the CFSI website to research who from their states and districts (in the Senate and the House) are currently Caucus members. Thank them for serving as a member of the Caucus and for their ongoing support. Current senators and representatives who are not Caucus members should be encouraged to join. New members getting ready to serve their first terms in Congress should be contacted and asked to join as they are considering their initial priorities.

Joining is easy. They simply contact the offices of any of the Caucus leaders to sign up. The current leadership includes Congressman Peter King (NY-3), who is the chairman, Senator John McCain (AZ), Senator Chris Dodd (CT), Senator Susan Collins (ME), Senator Tom Carper (DE), Congressman Steny Hoyer (MD-5), Congressman Rob Andrews (NJ-1) and Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson (MO-8).

Let's not let the "other guys" carry the water on seeding Caucus membership. Nothing is more important to elected officials than responding to the needs of their local constituents, but to be responsive, they must know what's important to those they serve. Maintaining the Congressional Fire Services Caucus as an influential and supportive group who can work in a bipartisan way on our issues is important, so please make your contacts soon. You represent the most effective way to continue to seed the caucus.

DENNIS COMPTON, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a well-known speaker and the author of several books, including his newest offering titled Progressive Leadership Principles, Concepts and Tools. He has also authored the three-part series of books titled When in Doubt, Lead, the book Mental Aspects of Performance for Firefighters and Fire Officers, as well as many articles, chapters and other publications. Compton was the fire chief in Mesa, AZ, for five years and as assistant fire chief in Phoenix, AZ, where he served for 27 years. Compton is the past chair of the Executive Board of the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) and past chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute's National Advisory Committee. He is also chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Board of Directors and the chairman of the Home Safety Council Board of Directors.

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