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2018 Presidential Address: Chief Tom Jenkins

I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to serve you and represent you.

Chief Tom Jenkins, 2017-2018 IAFC president and chairman of the board, delivered his presidential address during the general session of Fire-Rescue International, August 9, 2018, in Dallas, Texas.    

Four years ago, I found myself in a position where I thought I might be able help and serve our profession at a level that felt a bit out of my league.  Running for office in 2014 and 2015 was an experience in and of itself.  Listening and connecting to our members allowed me to understand where our association needed to improve and how I could potentially help make it better.

My experience as president is a highlight of my career and perhaps my entire life—a sentiment I suspect is shared by past presidents. I’m honored to have had this opportunity to serve you—the members of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

Each year, the work of the president is highlighted and celebrated. But our work is often a bit exaggerated. The real work is done by your board of directors; the leadership in committees, sections and divisions; and the IAFC professional staff. It’s that fusion among leadership, membership and staff that has made the IAFC the most respected and successful fire-service organization in the world.

The items we focused on this year were not decided on by gut feeling, staff recommendation or divine inspiration. Rather, the efforts I want to share with you were supported through consensus and communication with the elected officers of the association and the board itself. These efforts are not flashes in a pan, but success that will be eclipsed and built upon in the years to come. 

Your association continues to thrive in virtually every way possible, from business opportunities to the highest membership numbers in more than a decade. Our federation is strong.

Chief Kerr and Chief Sinclair led efforts to painstakingly review our governance model. One of the action items that came from that effort was the need for us and our various components to communicate more effectively. We delivered on that promise by hosting our first Leadership Forum that included division and section leaders and representatives from the Women’s Fire Chiefs Council and Diversity Executive Leadership Program. That process energized our association and galvanized the teamwork that we must have to succeed. 

However, we’re not just thriving as a membership association. We’re making a difference as a clearinghouse for leaders in emergency services and as an incubator for good ideas that make our profession safer, more effective and more accountable to the public we serve.

In the last few months, thanks to the fortitude of a few metro fire chiefs, our association decided to form an Urban Search and Rescue Committee to help organize and strengthen our nation’s ability to manage and improve these teams. Since USAR is now a core function of many departments, it seemed only natural that the IAFC should take the lead to fill this gap. 

Technology has changed the way we do business. In our communities, apps and computers have become nearly as essential as hoses and halligans. Our association in collaboration with ESRI and Intermedix created NMAS—the National Mutual Aid System—to simplify and improve the process by which resources could be identified, tracked and ordered. With successful deployment during Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, NMAS is gaining momentum and will change the way interstate mutual aid works, with a little luck. When you combine efforts like this with the strategic change FirstNet will bring, thanks to 100% of the states and territories choosing to opt in last year, it is easy to believe that we have many successes ahead of us.

I am also proud that this year we helped secure passage of the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act, FIRE-SAFER Grant Reauthorization and U.S. Fire Administration Reauthorization. We helped to secure an extension of the Medicare add-on payment for ambulance transport. We were also able to insert an important provision into the big tax-cut bill: a tax-break incentive for business owners to retrofit their properties with fire-sprinkler systems.

Our success is not limited to North America. For too long, our association has credited ourselves as being international by simply pointing north to Canada.  Fire doesn’t burn any differently in the United States than it does in Croatia and opportunities to learn and create win/wins are found on the international stage. The International Fellowship Program enabled firefighters from Saudi Aramco to visit the United States and learn the culture and teamwork of our fire departments.

Building upon the ultra-success of this program, the IAFC hosted a conference in the kingdom of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. This conference taught me that our association—our members—are a valued currency across the world. In the years to come, our influence internationally will only be limited by the resources we have to provide, because demand is solid and seemingly on the rise. With the creation of the Arabian Gulf Fire Council, I’m proud—ecstatic actually—to report that the “I” in the IAFC has never been stronger.

In another day or so, I’ll transition to being a past president and hand the reins of this fine and well-oiled organization over to Chief Dan Eggleston, a dear friend and a fire chief’s fire chief.

I’m excited to see my kids for more than a few days at a time, though Westin, Wyatt and Thomas won’t be able to fool me over FaceTime about whether their rooms are actually clean anymore.  Most of all, I’m thankful that I still have a beautiful and awesome wife to come home to after a year of being absent.  I hope she remembers me and hasn’t changed the locks on the door. 

I’m grateful to the men and women of my fire department—the Rogers Fire Department—for tolerating if not maybe enjoying my absence. Party’s over—I’m back.

To the members here today, I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to serve you and represent you internationally, in the halls of Congress and at all the venues in between. Be proud to be an IAFC member. Stay involved or find ways to get involved. Our association is not made better by those who just long for a membership card; rather we need you to contribute, ask questions and share solutions.

I wish Dan, Gary and Otto the very best in the year to come. You’re in for quite a ride fellas.

Thank you.  

About the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)
The IAFC represents the leadership of firefighters and emergency responders worldwide. IAFC members are the world's leading experts in firefighting, emergency medical services, terrorism response, hazardous materials spills, natural disasters, search and rescue, and public safety legislation. Since 1873, the IAFC has provided a forum for its members to exchange ideas, develop professionally and uncover the latest products and services available to first responders. Learn more
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