Four Current Political Opportunities

May 1, 2004
Editor’s note: Hal Bruno is on leave. We thank Chief Compton for filling in for Hal this month.

Instead of devoting this column to a single issue, I thought it might be helpful to discuss four of the many current political opportunities that the fire service is facing this month. They are all important and each has its unique political realities: the recent National Firefighter Line-of-Duty Deaths Summit; the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) Dinner and Seminars; the American Fire Service Position Paper on the FIRE Act; and a fire service senior executive in the Department of Homeland Security.

National Firefighter Line-of-Duty Deaths Summit. On March 10 and 11, a very special event took place in Tampa, FL. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation brought together 200 fire service leaders to develop strategic initiatives designed to reduce the annual number of firefighter line-of-duty deaths by 25% over the next five years and 50% over the next 10 years.

This was no doubt the first time that this particular group of high-profile members of the fire service had ever assembled to formulate a single plan to deal with the issue of firefighter fatalities. It was impressive. They worked hard and concluded the summit by creating strategic initiatives that will become the basis for specific action plans that must come to life throughout the fire service if we are to meet the goals of the summit.

We all know that there will be cultural and political challenges to overcome if the work completed at the summit has a chance at success. It will take each of the summit participants and others in our industry to do their part when opportunities to lead present themselves. Some of the summit initiatives are bold in scope and will surely rock some boats as they surface, but they are boats that need rocking.

Let’s work together to use the internal fire service political process to help reduce the number of firefighters killed in the line of duty each year. We owe that to our firefighters – and we owe it to their survivors.

Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) Dinner and Seminars. On May 5, CFSI will host the 16th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner and Seminars in Washington, DC. The theme this year is “Preparing for the Alarm.” Your support for CFSI and participation in this event are very important.

CFSI is the sole organization with the specific mission of building coalitions among the various fire service organizations so that issues of common interest can gain the support of Congress, the White House, and Federal Agencies. CFSI educates and provides information that helps federal legislators and their staffs to better support our nation’s fire service as a whole. When something good happens for the fire service in Washington, you can bet CFSI played a key role in it.

I hope you are in Washington for this event. You will enjoy a full day of exceptional seminars on Capitol Hill and a tremendous dinner that will make you proud to be in attendance. If the fire and emergency services hope to exert collective influence at the federal level, CFSI will be front and center helping to make it happen.

CFSI is about building the capability for the fire service to speak with one voice on issues of common concern and interest. The institute is critical to the success of fire service politics at the federal level. Support it in whatever way you can; you are certainly the beneficiaries of its work.

The American Fire Service Position Paper on the FIRE Act. In February, CFSI facilitated the development of The American Fire Service Position Paper on The Reauthorization of The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (the FIRE Act). Ten major fire service organizations signed off on this collectively developed “White Paper.” The FIRE Act is up for reauthorization during this congressional session and it’s sure to be a significant political challenge to get it passed and signed by the President.

The White Paper contains several suggestions to improve the grant program. Also included are recommendations for ensuring that the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), as well as the fire service itself, continues to play a key role within the program.

The House Discussion Draft of the Reauthorization Legislation published in late March contains many of the recommendations outlined in the White Paper. Nobody could be so politically naive as to think that everything we asked to be considered would be included by Congress, but it was encouraging to see the extent to which the White Paper has already influenced Congress and this draft.

The FIRE Act is important to the fire service for many reasons. Getting it reauthorized with some improvements, securing an appropriation equal to (or more than) this year’s, maintaining the prevention and public education grants and cooperative agreements within the program, and continuing a strong fire service influence within the administration of the process are critical.

Legislative matters are never easy, and they can be especially difficult challenges in tough budget times. Our success will require all of the fire service to exercise its collective political influence at the right times and in the right places. We must maintain and enhance the FIRE Act.

A fire service senior executive in the Department of Homeland Security. In July 2003, I testified at a congressional hearing concerning my views on major issues facing the fire service at the national level. I said then, and still feel today, that a major effort needs to be geared toward improving the level of influence the fire service has in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Simply, we need a fire service person elevated to a senior executive level position in DHS. That lack of representation at the very top of DHS is at the root of many of our current struggles for funding, other resources, attention and information. To be a player, you have to be present at the game, and the fire service is not always present at the daily senior executive level management game of leading this critical Department.

No matter who is President, elevating the fire service within the DHS senior executive management structure must be an issue. If we fix that piece, we improve the standing of the fire service within DHS significantly. We should accept nothing less.

Each of these four opportunities has political elements that are important to the fire service in many ways. Let’s commit to staying informed and use our political influence collectively to make progress in every way possible. A positive political commitment to collective goals is a responsibility that we all have. Politics is a part of almost everything we do. These are just four of many examples of why that’s true. Thanks in advance for doing your part.

Dennis Compton will present “Investing in the Fire Service: Developing Future Fire Officers” and join the panel discussion “The Fire Department and the Political Process” at Firehouse Expo 2004 in Baltimore, July 13-18.

Dennis Compton, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a well-known speaker and the author of several books including the When In Doubt, Lead! series, Mental Aspects of Performance For Firefighters And Fire Officers, as well as many other articles and publications. He is also the co-editor of the current edition of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) reference book Managing Fire and Rescue Services. He serves as a national advocate and executive advisor for fire service and emergency management issues and organizations. Compton served as the fire chief in Mesa, AZ, for five years and as assistant fire chief in the Phoenix Fire Department, where he served for 27 years. He is past chair of the executive board of the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA), past chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute’s National Advisory Committee, and serves on the board of directors for the Home Safety Council (HSC).

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