Politics of the Fire Service, It's More Than Just Two Days

Last week the KME team attended the Congressional Fire Services Institute’s (CFSI) 26th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner and Seminars in Washington D.C. The CFSI was established in 1989 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy institute designed to educate members of Congress about the needs and challenges of our nation's fire and emergency services so that the federal government provides the types of training and funding needed by our first responders. This dinner is their biggest fundraiser as they receive no federal support. So whether you realize it or not, there’s a group fighting for your needs in D.C every day in conjunction with other organizations like the IAFC, IAFF, NVFC, FAMA and FEMSA.

Prior to the dinner we spent hours on Capitol Hill meeting with legislators and staff in both Houses and on both sides of the aisles. As I walked the halls I ran into large fire groups from Delaware, Long Island, South Carolina and New England as well as lobbying groups from just about every other special interest you can think of. And while it was a great couple of days for the fire service, it was pretty clear that we need a lot more time in front of our legislators than just two days. The average Congressman’s day is broken into 15 minute meetings (when they’re not on the floor) all day long hearing about issues on defense, medical, farming, airlines, and every other issue that needs money. We need to separate ourselves from the other groups because what the fire service provides is unique. It’s important and frankly the country can’t function without it for even one day.

As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.”  Members of Congress realize that so you don’t have to go to Washington DC to make a difference. Contact your local legislators and help them understand your needs and challenges. Invite them to your events and perhaps even some joint training sessions with other departments. If you’re looking for a few “talking points” for the general fire service beyond your own specific needs, here are a few we spoke about last week.
  1. Fund the Assistance to Firefighter Grants (AFG) Program at $340 million—The AFG program is one of the most efficiently run and effective programs in the fire service. In FY 2014 Congress funded the program  at $340 million, down 40% from its FY 2009 level of $565 million, yet first responder calls continue to climb dramatically to their current level of 31.9 million calls per year. In addition, support an additional $340 million for the SAFER program for personnel.
  1. Fund the US Fire Administration in FY 2014 at $44 million—The President’s budget is $41.3 million, yet the USFA has lost 25% of their total budget over the years despite continuing to support a wide variety of programs including the National Fire Academy where fire service members receive critical training.
  1. Fund the Urban Search and Rescue Response System at $50 million—The Urban Search and Rescue program is essential to our capacity to respond to dramatic natural and man-made events across the nation which seem to be increasing at an alarming rate. If $50 million isn’t possible then at least keep it at it’s current level of $35.18 million as the President’s budget is only $27.5 million.
  1. Support the Volunteer Emergency Services Recruitment and Retention Act—H.R. 1009 and S. 506 would simplify how Length of Service Award Programs (LOSAPs) are taxed without increasing or reducing federal spending or taxes. Simply put, VESRRA eliminates burdonsome and confusing IRS requirements that make it unnecessarily difficult for departments to administer plans that act as a modest incentive to recruit and retain volunteer fire and EMS personnel.
Whether you’re a career, combination or volunteer department, the fire service needs your voice. Over ½  of our fire departments cannot equip all firefighters on a shift with SCBA’s, nearly half the departments engines are at least 15 years old and thousands of engines are over 30 years old. There are 1,148,800 firefighters in the US and that’s a lot of voices. Contact your legislators and let them know the importance of the American fire service.
Posted: 5/6/2014 1:58:16 PM
comments powered by Disqus