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Remarks of Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, IAFC President 2015-2016, at FRI 2015

Good morning!

There are no words to adequately express to you what an honor it is to stand before you as your new president and to look forward to what lies ahead of us during the next year.

But I would not be where I am today without a whole host of people supporting me. I’d like to take a few minutes to thank them, so please bear with me.

First, to all the members of this great organization: thank you for this immense privilege. I promise to represent and serve you with the utmost dignity, commitment and gratitude that this responsibility deserves.

Second, to the men and women of the Austin Fire Department, several of whom are here today: thank you for your selfless service and the great work you do day in and day out, not only in support of your fellow firefighters, but for the citizens of Austin and Central Texas. You make me proud to say I am the Austin fire chief!

Third, to Marc Ott, the Austin city manager: thank you for hiring me and for your support in my presidential campaign. You have often said that I was the best hire you ever made—and I promise to continue representing you and the city of Austin on the international stage with grace and humility!

To my friends and family, many of whom traveled to be here: thank you for your love and support not only today, but throughout my career. And to my sister, Abby, who has always been my biggest cheerleader—I love you!

And finally, many of you may not know that I come from a long line of firefighters; in fact, I am the fourth generation! I would not be where I am now without them, so thanks to my dad, grandfather and great-grandfather. I like to think that they are looking down today on this momentous event and are bursting with pride.

As your president, there are three areas I want to focus on in the coming year: Building upon the Past, Responding to the Present and Preparing for the Future.

Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

I believe we can continue to learn important lessons from the past by reducing firefighter deaths—including line-of-duty deaths and preventable medical conditions—and focusing on the well-being and safety of our firefighters through positive change.

More than at any other time in our history, the fire service has made great strides in adopting successful business practices. As we operate in our day-to-day world, there are three areas we need to remain steadfast in as we Respond to the Present:

  • sustainability as both a global organization and as individual departments,
  • building relationships in the community,
  • and exploring and addressing our medical mission.

Active-shooter events, management of the wildland-urban interface and the impact to service delivery of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are all examples of the present-day challenges we must continue to meet head-on.

And finally, Preparing for the Future: President John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. Those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

As we prepare for what lies ahead, we need to focus on embracing cutting-edge technology, such as the proliferation of rescue robotics in emergency management, and reducing the impact of fire.

But what does that mean? This reduction is critical to my overall vision of Zero Fire Deaths. The installation of working smoke alarms in at-risk neighborhoods, residential sprinklers, stricter code enforcement and incorporating research into operational best practices—[these] are all examples of proactive steps we can take to enhance firefighter and citizen safety.

There is no more honorable profession than serving your fellow human beings. Ours is a rich, historic one of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and especially, personal courage.

We are all privileged to call ourselves firefighter and these values are ones we all strive to exemplify.

As we look forward to this next year, I want to challenge each of you to have the courage to do your part towards realizing my vision of zero fire deaths.

I won’t presume to tell you what that means in your department, as each of you faces unique challenges in your communities.

But what I do know is that there is at least one thing you can do to help.

Maybe it’s conducting a smoke-alarm drive in a particular area of your community.

Maybe it’s lobbying before your local government entity for residential sprinklers.

Or maybe it’s ensuring your firefighters get their physicals every year and stay healthy.

Whatever it is, and no matter the size of your organization, there is something you can do.

Now is the time to do it! I can’t do it alone.

Promise them, promise me and promise your brothers and sisters in the fire service that you will do your part to ensure that “Everyone Goes Home.”

Again, thank you for this enormous honor to serve as the first woman president of the IAFC in 142 years. I don’t want to be the only—or the last.

But I am thrilled to be able to break another glass ceiling!

Here’s to the next year!

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