This Spring, IAFC leadership met with legislators in Washington, DC, to communicate our association’s legislative and funding priorities that included (but were not limited to):
- Fire sprinkler retrofit installation tax incentives
- FIRE/SAFER grants
- Hazmat response training
- Rural fire and EMS grants
- Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act
- Wildland fire issues (U.S. Forest Service)
Due to our efforts and the efforts of countless others, states have passed new laws regarding firefighter cancer and first responder mental health. The U.S. Congress passed legislation implementing a voluntary firefighter cancer registry; fire sprinkler tax incentives; funding of the U.S. Fire Administration; funding of the Assistance to Firefighter Grants (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Emergency Response (SAFER) grants, and other programs important to fire and emergency medical services across the country.
Laws and regulations are being passed continually and many more are being proposed and waiting for action to be taken. Funding priorities are being determined at all levels of government with many interests competing for the same funds. It is critical that we, as the fire service, have a voice at all levels of government in shaping public policy. To do that, local fire chiefs must take ownership in the fire service advocacy process, learn about important issues, and communicate to elected officials why a particular issue is important, so the elected officials understand the benefits and consequences of particular legislation.
For us, advocacy is an ongoing process, not a singular event. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We must build good relationships, cultivate those relationships, and educate our elected officials on issues relevant to the fire and emergency service.
Individuals and groups often attempt to shape public policy through education, advocacy, and/or mobilization of interest groups. In our fire service, we are the advocates for issues affecting fire and emergency medical services. Some fire chiefs voice disdain for “politics” as a reason not to get involved in legislative advocacy. One thing is sure -- you may “hate” politics, but you can’t ignore the consequences of politics. We, as advocates for the fire and emergency service, must use every opportunity to support our issues and communicate needs or concerns to our elected officials.
It is essential at each level for local fire chiefs to build and maintain relationships with the elected officials and advocate for fire and emergency service issues from the local level. This is the most effective form of advocacy for two reasons: One, because it is personal and involves a personal story about the effect, whether positive or negative, that a particular action taken by an elected official, or body, will have on local first responders and/or the citizens; and two, the first responders and citizens are the constituents and voters of that local area.
As the local fire chief, invite elected officials to have lunch or attend an event at a fire station. Offer to be a point of contact on fire and emergency service issues. Keep the elected officials updated on the things happening in your department and the community. Ask your elected officials what you can do for them.
For those who do not believe your voice can make a difference, every program at the beginning of this article started as a need at the local level. You can make a difference, and elected officials hear our voice as a unified fire service. If you do not know where to start or need some assistance or information, reach out to your state fire chiefs association or the IAFC.
Mike Mavrogeorge is the Fire Chief of Oak Lawn, Illinois; current Vice-President of the IAFC Great Lakes Division; current Vice-Chair of the IAFC Emergency Management Committee; Past-Chairman of the Illinois Fire Services Association; and a Past Chairman of the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association Legislative Committee.