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WHY?

If the fire service is populated with honorable and good people who are dedicated to providing their best efforts in the name of public safety to their communities, then why should we have to pay someone else to advocate on our behalf? Who better than us to advocate for our needs?

An advocate is defined as one who pleads the cause of another; one who defends, vindicates or espouses any cause by argument; a pleader.

I see nowhere in the definition “one who is paid”.

I will go on record right now and say that I am tired of the continuing erosion of the political system in this country and it’s “pay to play” culture.

What was once a noble undertaking by people of communities and country to provide for the common good through public service has become a giant lockbox of men and money. And the key to the lockbox are lobbyists and anyone else with enough money to “turn the key in the lock”.

Many of us attend conferences, public hearings, summits, etc. and come away with a consensus of concerns that must enter into the political arena for the funding necessary to address those concerns. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But, it’s not.

In a world where we must create strategies to mitigate every emergency known to Man, we are told that we aren’t smart enough to understand the process of taking our concerns, getting them drafted into legislative bills with the help of legislative sponsors, gaining enough support from a select committee to move it out of committee and onto the floor of the legislative chamber for debate, vote and passage of the bill.

No; for that, we need a paid lobbyist, because he “understands” how the “system” works.

Politics has become a slimy, smelly, decomposing corpse; the victim of self-righteous, self-important and self-aggrandizing statesmen who have perverted public priorities for their own personal gain.

How, exactly, did the fire service become a “special interest” group?

Some might argue that we aren’t, but they would be wrong!

Merriam-Webster.com defines special interest as “a group that tries to influence the people who run a government in order to help a particular business, cause, industry, etc.: a person or group seeking to influence legislative or government policy to further often narrowly defined interests”.

Get the picture, now?

Because the fire service employs lobbyists, we are by definition a “special interest” group. I would like to think that we are a “PUBLIC INTEREST” group with special skills that delivers a vital service to our communities, whom we regard as special.

Can anyone else remember a time when there was mounting frustration in the fire service because law enforcement was “getting all of the federal money”? I remember it very well.

However; I don’t know if the fire service borrowed a page from law enforcement’s playbook, but it would appear so. The “if we don’t get more money, more people will die”  argument was very effective.

Before anyone jumps out of their shorts that are on fire from great indignation, I am not for a minute minimizing the loss of life in our fire service. I am saying that we should not use the occasion of the death as an opportunity for commercialization. All efforts should be for the families-immediate and firehouse.

Think of all of the advocates that we have within the fire service. Sure; some of them charge a membership fee, but they also offer a broad base of benefits. But when you pay for a lobbyist, you are getting no guarantee of the outcome for your money.

You win some; you lose some. You have to pick your battles. Lose the battle; win the war.

But, we keep paying lobbyists and their numbers grow with each “retirement” of a legislator. It couldn’t possibly be for money. It’s for public service, right?

We have paid lobbyists in Illinois who work on getting legislation passed that affects public safety, despite the fact that we have many individuals and groups that are fully capable of moving their concerns to legislation, with one, distinct exception; residential sprinkler mandates. The Home Builders Association of Illinois (HBAI) opposes any legislation that mandates sprinklers in new home construction, because it adds thousands of dollars (it’s not about money, though) to the cost of new home construction. And some of our legislators oppose the legislation because of the “financial burden” that it places on young, new home buyers (as they wink at the HBAI for the campaign donation).

Even though they are building homes that burn faster, hotter and that release more toxic gases like never before; they don’t see the need to change the way that we deal with fires that are in the incipient stage.

To me, it’s real simple. The legislation makes good sense. So, give the home buyer a credit or a tax break to purchase a home with sprinklers. Remember; the same argument was used when mandatory seatbelts laws were enacted. Safety had nothing to do with it. It was all about the cost that it would add to new vehicles.

Take the money that we spend for lobbyists and lobbying activities and re-purpose it to research and burn centers.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), Firefighter Near-miss, FireSmoke.org, Congressional Fire Service Institute (CFSI), Illinois Fire Chiefs Association (IFCA), Illinois Firefighters Association (IFA), Illinois Association of Fire Protection Districts (IAFPD) and such fire service luminaries as Chief Bobby Halton, Chief Ron Siarnicki, Chief Rick Lasky, Chief Billy Goldfeder, Chief John Buckman, Dr. Harry Carter and Janet Wilmoth, to mention a few, are more than capable of articulating our issues.

For me; well, I prefer to stay at the local level, where I will continue my strong advocacy on behalf of our local firefighters.

And I will do so free of charge!

 

The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of www.fireengineering.com, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. All articles by the author are protected by federal copyright under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella and cannot be reproduced in any form without expressed permission from the author.

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Comment by Harve Woods on March 18, 2014 at 9:21pm

Well, Sorry I'm late for the party.... Art is, as always, right on target with his comments, and I agree wholeheartedly. For the last 10 years, I have served as the Legislative Committee Chairman for the Maryland Fire Chief's Association. Here in Maryland, we do a few things that some other States might try for themselves; 1. Every Friday Morning during the Legislative session, at a Fire station within sight of the state Capitol, Representatives of the State's Fire Service organizations and State Agencies who deal with Fire matters in their respective areas sit down and review pending legislation, as well as work on strategy. When we go forth in favor of, or in opposition to, a bill, we present a United Front for the Fire/Rescue/EMS Services. We also hold an annual reception with invitations going to the Governor and all Legislators. Over the years, a Fire Caucus has been created within the House and Senate by those members of both bodies who are Firefighters back home. We are currently working with a good 75-85% success rate, and doing it as Art would, without Hired Lobbyists. Does it take a lot of hard work? Sure. But the rewards are worth it.....

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