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Chief Keith Bryant Sets Goals for the Fire Service and His Term as IAFC President

Chief Keith Bryant speaks to FRI 2014 attendeesI am sincerely honored, humbled and excited to have the opportunity to serve our association in the capacity of president and chairman of the board. Since being elected to the IAFC board, I've been asked by many people what the focus or theme of my term as your president would be.

In most cases, I answer that question by asking what you would like it to be. In saying that, I mean that my primary focus is to represent our association and promote the positions and priorities and address the issues as established by us collectively as members of the IAFC.

In other words, our agenda is my agenda.

But I'm also like many of you in that I am passionate and interested in some things more than others. And during my term, I hope to have the opportunity to give them some special attention.

As an association of fire service leadership, we need to maintain our efforts to emphasize the critical role of the fire service in homeland security and in public health and safety at the national level.

While that is stating the obvious, we've recently seen a federal agency discontinue the practice of providing surplus military equipment to be used by fire departments to protect their communities because it didn't fall under their definition of being used for national-security purposes. We shouldn't take offense or consider that a slight, but we should realize that as it relates to grant funding and other programs, not everyone, including political leaders, sees the fire service as a vital part of protecting this nation.

I had the good fortune of attending the Tampa II Summit as many of you did earlier this year. As nice as it was to celebrate the progress of the 16 Life Safety Initiatives, it was equally encouraging that those gathered there were committed to how we go further to improve firefighter health and safety. I am committed to ensuring that the IAFC maintains its strong presence and influence in these initiatives.

I applaud the work of the Safety, Health and Survival Section in promoting and advocating for mandatory physical exams for all firefighters. We continue to see the statistics of cardiovascular events as the leading cause of firefighter line-of-duty deaths. If we dig down below that fact into the data, we can easily see common threads among those we're losing. We know that regular health and fitness evaluations could have identified risk factors in many of them and all but eliminate these tragedies.

Though it would be ideal to achieve this through legislation or collective bargaining, there's a leadership component to this that we often don't realize: risk of injury, sickness and death is largely prevented when we as company and chief officers don't allow the behaviors and practices we continue to see occur. As the popular saying goes, "What you permit, you promote."

While in Tampa, it was also good to hear discussion on mental health in the fire service. It's past time that it be an equal priority to physical health.

Up to now, our efforts and programs have been largely reactive, even while we see some disturbing trends. To date in 2014, there have been 44 deaths of firefighters and EMTs by suicide according to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance. I want the IAFC to partner with the Alliance, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and others to do our best to make beneficial programs available throughout our industry.

But again, each of us can make an impact as individuals by truly being our brothers' and sisters' keepers, through our observations and influence as leaders. As the Homeland Security motto goes, "If you see something, say something."

In conclusion, I'd ask you all to put thought to becoming more involved and engaged in the work of our association. There are many ways to become more actively involved and it's as easy as asking.

I would like to emphasize one way each of us can have a huge impact in supporting and growing the IAFC: through membership recruitment. Through attending the IAFC's conneXions program and other events, I've met many, many younger chief officers who are extremely sharp, bright people who aren't currently members but need to be. Not for numbers sake, but for what they have to offer our association and the benefit we can be to them.

Each of us knows at least one of these people within our own organizations and areas. Reach out to them, mentor them, lead them and even sponsor them to becoming IAFC members.

Again, my deepest, sincere thanks to you, my friends and colleagues, for allowing me this experience. I look forward to meeting and visiting many of you throughout the year.

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