Photo Jon Hughes Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi address the CFSI Dinner.
I think that each of us often wonders what role we can play in firefighter safety. Clearly everyone can play a part in their own personal safety, and that's something we all should do. But what else is there? The truth is, there's a lot — and you don't have to arrive in a chief's car or sit in the officer's seat to make a difference.
Earlier this month I joined 2,000 other people interested in firefighter safety during the annual Congressional Fire Services Institute Dinner in Washington, D.C, which focused on several items to assist in both firefighter and fire safety. In fact, it's something that each of us can participate in — even if you don't go to Washington itself.
Every single one of us, has an opportunity — and more than the average citizen does — to convince our local, state and federal officials of the important role they can play in firefighter safety. While traveling to the Capitol may be beyond most in the fire service because of work, family or financial reasons, everyone can still have an impact.
Each of our elected officials returns home for periods. And during these times, they want to talk to us and they want our approval, especially in an election year. Many do not believe this, but officials are truly interested in the opinions of the citizens they serve. That doesn't mean they can do something about everything they are told, but they do want to at least hear from everyone. Not only are they interested in the average citizen's thoughts, they really love to hear from firefighters — everyone loves us, and elected officials are no different.
Positive image Most of us also have an opportunity at least once a year to see our congressional representatives at a parade; we are after all fairly noticeable given the fire trucks we surround. I can assure you that these representatives also want to be seen around those trucks and us. When they approach you, how do you react? Do you give them the cold shoulder or do you invite them over, explain what equipment they are seeing and why we have it on our trucks? Do you ask them to support the national fire service organizations? The International Association of Fire Chiefs/Fire Fighters, Arson Investigators, the National Volunteer Fire Fighters Council or just the Congressional Fire Caucus; pick one or just ask them to support firefighter safety issues.
They'll hear the message. If they hear it from one fire department at each parade or event they go to this year, I guarantee that they will commit to doing it. I started my career working for a state representative on fire service issues. We used to have the 1/5/10 rule: 10 people talking to our boss about the same issue was worth five phone calls on the same issue, which in turn was worth one letter on an issue.
The amount of time and energy that a citizen would put into the issue was recognized. It was easy to bump into my boss and mention something. It took a little more time to make a phone call. And finally if someone took the time to actually write a letter (handwritten or typed), it really got our attention.
Check out the web sites of the national associations and find out what's going on. Most importantly take the time to interact with your elected officials. It is a firefighter safety issue and it is a role each of us can play.
Tom LaBelle serves as an assistant chief with the Wynantskill (N.Y.) Fire Department where he is responsible for training. He has been employed by the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs since 1995. Prior to joining NYSAFC, Asst. Chief LaBelle served as the legislative director for the New York State Assembly's Sub Committee on Fire Protection Services. He provides support for career and volunteer departments from the nations largest to smallest. He currently sits as a voting member on the NFPA 1720 committee. He is a certified fire instructor and fire officer. Chief LaBelle can be reached via email at Tom.Labelle@FireRescue1.com.
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