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President's Letter: Not a Politician? Think Again

I’m not a politician. I don’t get involved in politics.

Recognize these statements? Have you ever heard them come from a fire chief? I have, and I also have to admit making those statements myself.

While not politicians in terms of campaigning or being elected for public office, fire chiefs work in a political environment, whether it be at the county, municipal, state or federal level.

Likewise, whether we’re with volunteer, combination or paid departments, politics have a major influence in almost every aspect of the fire service.

Political acumen has been identified as one of the wicked problems facing today’s fire service leaders. Specifically speaking, fire service leaders aren’t prepared to be effective in this environment because of how we train, educate and select leaders.

Furthermore, developing the capacity to work in a political environment requires skills not yet developed in most fire officers. It’s one thing to understand and recognize the political environment of the fire service and quite another to navigate and operate in it.

As we educate, train and mentor the future leaders of our profession, are we adequately preparing them for the political issues and challenges they will face? How many careers have been cut short or destroyed by a lack of political acumen?

I believe that to a great extent we as current leaders bear the responsibility for this.

Another aspect of this problem is apathy and frustration. In this regard, we’re no different from many in society today who are disillusioned, disgusted and distrusting of the current political discourse and environment.

While there’s no arguing that this attitude isn’t without justification, neither is it an excuse for disengaging from the important issues that impact the fire service and determine the level and quality of service we provide to our communities.

The primary mission of the IAFC is advocacy for our membership. This obviously includes continued lobbying at the national level for those issues and programs we have identified as being critical to maintaining and improving fire and emergency services in this nation.

The Assistance to Firefighter and SAFER Grant programs continue to be one focus of our political efforts, along with many other legislative issues, including communications, wildland fire mitigation, EMS and volunteer incentives.

Finally, legislative agenda is an area that every single IAFC member can and should be participating in. Regardless of whether you’re currently serving on a committee, task force, division or section board, you can be involved in educating and informing political leaders and policymakers—as well as soliciting their support—of the importance of the fire and emergency services to the safety and wellbeing of their constituents, the citizens we serve.

G. Keith Bryant
President and Chairman of the Board

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