Mutual aid is a familiar concept in the fire service, but its usefulness extends far beyond the fireground. When your agency is facing a problem that exceeds your resources, contacting your members of Congress can be an important phone call to make. Despite the reputation as a "do-nothing" Congress, your current members of Congress and their staffs can often help identify existing solutions to policy problems or create new solutions if none currently exist.
Regardless of whether your agency is facing a specific problem, establishing a relationship with your members in the Senate and House of Representatives can place a strong ally in your corner.
As a fire chief, you occupy one of the most trusted local government offices; this rings true with your members of Congress, too. When you talk, your members of Congress will most likely listen. While the IAFC is active on Capitol Hill throughout the year, there are few things more valuable to members of Congress than direct feedback from their hometown fire chiefs.
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your conversation with your senators and representatives:
- Download the latest Hot Sheet and Issue Discussion – The IAFC publishes these monthly guides on the hottest issues in the fire and emergency service. These talking points will help you explain key issues to your members of Congress and let them know exactly what help is needed. Find updated versions monthly at IAFC.org/GR.
- Identify your members of Congress – Go to either House.gov or Senate.gov, where you'll be prompted to enter your zip code. The websites use your zip code to match you to your members of Congress. Your agency's first due area may be located in a different congressional district than your home. In this case, make sure to also reach out to members of Congress who represent your first due; they may have more interest in the challenges facing your fire department.
- Contact your members of Congress – Once you've identified your members of Congress, the websites will also pull up their office phone numbers. Each office may have a different procedure for processing meeting requests with the member of Congress, so make sure to work with whomever answers the phone in that office to set up a meeting.
- Meet your members of Congress – When you're finally meeting your members of Congress, whether back home or in Washington, make sure to plan the issues you'd like to discuss ahead of time. Be sure to also have a clear request for assistance: your members of Congress can't help if they don't know specifically what you need. The IAFC's Hot Sheet and Issue Discussion can serve as great conversation starters and background information for both you and your member of Congress.
- Follow up after the meeting – One or two days after your meetings, follow-up with your members of Congress and their staffs to thank them for meeting with you. Remember, this wasn't just a meeting; it was the start of an ongoing dialogue. Make sure your members of Congress have your current contact information and that you have contact information for the staff member who handles fire service issues. Continue the dialogue by sending regular updates about your fire department and any action alerts you receive from the IAFC.
Above all else, remember you're not alone in facing the challenge of being fire chief. Your members of Congress can be great allies in addressing issues your fire department faces and in serving the community with you.
The IAFC's Government Relations and Policy Department is also always available to help you reach out to your members of Congress and communicate your agency's concerns.
Just as you shouldn't hesitate to call for mutual aid on the fireground, don't hesitate to sound the alarm in Congress and with your federal partners!