Activity On The Hill: You Need To Stay Informed

June 1, 2004
Hal Bruno has asked me to pinch hit on his column once again, and I am happy to do so. Speaking of Hal, he is such a special man. Having undergone six-way heart bypass surgery only a few months ago, Hal’s first night out after his surgery was to emcee the 16th annual Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) Fire and Emergency Services Dinner in Washington on May 5, and he did so with a style that is unique to Hal. The dinner, which boasted a record crowd, wouldn’t have been the same without him. Thanks, Hal!

If you didn’t attend the CFSI dinner, you missed spending a great evening with the more than 2,100 people who were there. You also missed the opportunity to attend nine workshops on Capitol Hill designed to brief attendees on current issues and concerns:

1. “Understanding The Legislative Process” – A discussion on the legislative process and tips on tracking legislation and lobbying Congress.

2. “A Congressional Roundtable Discussion” – A discussion with members of Congress regarding current legislation affecting the nation’s fire and emergency services.

3. “The National Response Plan and Preparedness at the Community Level” – A discussion of programs to increase community preparedness in the event of a major emergency.

4. “The United States Fire Administration Panel” – A discussion of major USFA initiatives.

5. “Issues in First Responder Communications” – A discussion on communications challenges and federal initiatives to correct these problems.

6. “Federal Funding for America’s Fire Service” – A discussion on funding, highlighting several critical programs.

7. “Topics in EMS” – A discussion on EMS issues and legislation with an emphasis on new training regulations to address staffing shortages and programs to respond to biohazards.

8. “Fire Prevention and Education: The Consequences of Reducing Fire Prevention and Public Education Funding” – Focused on the President’s proposed elimination of fire prevention and public education funding from the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.

9. “The Federal Procurement Process” – A discussion on how the fire service can locate and work with the federal procurement system following the realignment of the government as a result of the Homeland Security Act.

There are several pieces of legislation that we need to be aware of as the congressional session progresses. Sean Carroll, the CFSI legislative director, periodically produces a Legislative Summary covering the current status of many of the bills. I’m sure he won’t mind if I use his latest summary as a resource to alert you to a few of the bills:

  • The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Reauthorization Act of 2004 (HR4107) authorizes Congress to make appropriations to the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (the FIRE Act) for fiscal years 2005 through 2007 at $900 million per year.

  • The Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act (HR1824 and S1566) amends the IRS Code of 1986 to include automatic fire sprinkler systems as five-year property for depreciation, creating an incentive for the retrofit of automatic sprinkler systems in commercial properties.

  • The Homeland Emergency Response Operations (HERO) Act (HR1425) requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to prohibit granting any extension beyond Dec. 31, 2006, for the reassignment of the frequencies assigned for public safety services.

  • The Cigarette Fire Safety Act of 2004 (HR4155) sets ignition standards for cigarettes.

  • The Faster and Smarter Funding for First Responders Act of 2003 (HR3266) directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish a State and Regional First Responder Grant Program in which the Secretary may make grants on the basis of the threat to a population and critical infrastructure.

  • The Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act of 2003 (HR2683 and S1385) provides for disclosure of fire safety standards with respect to campus buildings and for other purposes.

  • The Emergency Preparedness and Response Act of 2003 (S930) establishes a program to provide assistance to prepare for and respond to all hazards.

  • The Enhanced 911 Emergency Communications Act of 2003 (S1250 and HR2898) creates a task force to facilitate coordination between federal, state and local communications systems, and authorizes $500 million per year for grants to enhance emergency communications through planning, infrastructure improvement, and equipment purchases in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security. It would also require states to certify that no E911 fees are being used for other purposes.

It is incumbent upon the members of the fire service to become (and stay) informed of federal legislation and policies that have a significant impact upon our financial resources, as well as our state, regional, and local service delivery and support systems. I often hear people say, “Someone oughta just…” They’re right, someone should – and that someone is us. But it’s hard to be of much help if we aren’t informed, engaged, connected and positive players. Take care and thanks for your efforts. I send my very best wishes to Hal and Meg Bruno.

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 ICMA’s textbook 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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