The Ongoing Importance Of a Unified Voice

March 1, 2009

Politics meets performance in many different ways and plays out every day as fire departments strive to deliver service throughout the country. We all know how much impact elected officials at all levels of government have on decisions relating to a fire department's ability to perform its mission. With this in mind, the place where fire service organizations come together at the national level in support of common causes is the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI).

On April 1 and 2, members of the fire service from throughout the country will gather again in Washington, DC, for the 21st Annual Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) Seminars and Dinner. The economic challenges of our nation, the new Administration and our ongoing national fire service agenda gives us plenty to learn about, talk about and plan for. In line with those realities, the theme this year is "New Beginnings...New Opportunities."

It has never been more important that we attend this function in an effort to reinforce the unity of the fire service to those in the federal government who make decisions that affect us. This event provides many opportunities to learn, network, stay current, and visit with elected officials and their staffs, as well as meet with various federal agency officials. However, it also reinforces to the fire service itself the critical importance of working with our elected officials in the Administration, Senate and House of Representatives on issues that are important to our service as a whole.

There is no better way for fire service members to get updated quickly and accurately on major areas of mutual interest than to attend the CFSI seminars. Attendees can pick and choose the sessions they want to attend based on their particular interests and needs. This year, the line-up includes sessions relating to important and timely subjects:

  • Current federal legislation and the legislative process
  • Funding for fire and emergency services
  • Firefighter health and safety policies and initiatives
  • Fire service-based EMS Coalition
  • Wildland/urban interface policies and challenges
  • Working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • National policy issues relating to prevention and public education
  • Policies relating to home fire sprinkler requirements
  • A Town Hall meeting relating to the "Everyone Goes Home" program
  • Safety and security at the U.S. Capitol

Following the seminars, attendees are encouraged to meet with their members of the Senate and House of Representatives, and/or their professional staffs, to interact and deliver important messages consistent with policy positions related throughout the year and during the CFSI seminars. These seminars and Congressional meetings provide a busy and exciting set of opportunities leading up to the CFSI Dinner.

Each year, those who attend the CFSI Dinner find it a wonderful opportunity for networking and continuing their conversations from the day. The learning continues through the evening as presentations are made by prominent elected officials and other leaders in Washington. Attendees (especially those who are there for the first time) are impressed with the event and thrilled to have had the opportunity to be present. Many first-time attendees say afterwards that it was the professional opportunity of a lifetime.

The 2009 CFSI Dinner will be as important as ever. If the fire and emergency services are to exert collective influence at the federal level, the CFSI must continue to be front and center in making that happen. The annual Seminars and Dinner event is the primary funding source for the CFSI, so for it to succeed on behalf of the fire service, the fire service must support the CFSI through their attendance and participation.

Every member of the fire service, and every national fire service organization, is important to the success of the CFSI in exercising collective influence at the federal level. Frankly, the fire service will not be successful if we fail to stay united or if our messages differ when they are communicated to elected, appointed, and career federal officials. The fire service and the public it serves will be the beneficiaries of the work we do and the goals we achieve through the CFSI, especially if we achieve them together.

One of the most important things we can do politically as members of the fire service throughout the country is to ensure that the CFSI continues to be successful. In doing so, the CFSI can continue to serve as the house where we come together on issues of common interest and concern. If the fire service doesn't make sure that happens, nobody else will.

DENNIS COMPTON, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a well-known speaker and the author of several books, including the When in Doubt, Lead series. He is also co-editor of the current edition of the ICMA textbook Managing Fire and Rescue Services. Compton was the fire chief in Mesa, AZ, for five years and 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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