By Jerry Brant
Over the past year, I have written several columns concerning the importance of educating our public officials on the work that we do in the fire service. A number of times I have asked you to contact your senators and representatives regarding legislation that is pending before them and will impact the fire service.
I still believe that if firefighters across this country could unite and speak as one voice on issues that affect the fire service, we would represent one of the largest voting blocks in the nation and politicians would pay close attention to our needs.
I also realize the time constraints that our busy schedules place on us and the fact that some of you may not feel comfortable contacting your elected officials because you don't know what to tell them.
The Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) has just simplified this process with the production and release of an educational video designed to increase awareness about the importance of the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant Programs.
Featuring prominent fire service leaders and a cadre of firefighters from various fire service fields, the video highlights the many benefits of the two grant programs — from enhancing the response capabilities for all types of emergencies to stimulating local economies through the manufacturing of equipment and apparatus. The video can be watched on the CFSI website.
I encourage you to watch the video and then make an appointment to share it with your elected officials. The video is geared toward the two federal programs but the message that it delivers is also appropriate for state and local officials.
Our elected leaders need to understand the many roles of today's firefighters and the training, equipment and personnel we need to protect our communities. While firefighters continue to perform our mission of fire suppression, EMS, rescue and prevention, the fire service has undergone many changes that our elected officials need to understand.
The fire service will remain primarily a local responsibility, but because of the added homeland security responsibilities the fire service has assumed and the mobility of today's society, our elected leaders need to understand the obligations that all levels of government must assume to train, equip and staff our nation's fire and emergency services.
The video is only six minutes long and highlights some of the key benefits of both the AFG and SAFER programs. It can be played during meetings with elected officials and their staff or mailed to congressional offices. If you choose the latter, a letter should accompany the video explaining from your department's standpoint why support for AFG and SAFER is so important to the fire service and any benefits that your agency may have received from either program.
At the present time, Congress is in the process of approving funding for both AFG and SAFER for Fiscal Year 2011. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security approved $420 million for both programs. The Senate Appropriations Committee, however, approved $420 million for SAFER, but only $390 million for AFG.
The two programs are equally important as they both address critical needs for career, combination and volunteer departments in rural and urban communities. Hence, in your communications with your members, urge them to support $420 million for both programs for Fiscal Year 2011.
Please take the time today to communicate this important message to your senator and representative.
In 2010 the AFG program took a substantial hit and lost over $100 million from previous allocations. We cannot let funding to the fire service continue to erode to the point where federal financial assistance will eventually be eliminated.
The only way our elected officials can be aware of our needs and the important role that AFG and SAFER play in meeting those needs is if we communicate this information to them directly.
To receive a copy of the video, send an e-mail request to CFSI at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name and mailing address.