5 fire service questions for the next U.S. president

Questions on policy and governing philosophy are coming at the presidential candidates from all angles; here's a list of those the fire service should want answered


Both major political parties are set to begin their nominating conventions over the next two weeks. The Libertarian party, the only other party so far to have a candidate on all 50 ballots, held its convention in late May.

While there are plenty of insults, accusations and promises surrounding the official start of the general election season, there are a host of real issues where the candidates differ. And there are some very firefighting-specific areas of concern we'd like to see all candidates address in the coming months.

Here are five of those questions firefighters should want the presidential candidates to answer. Use the comment section below to add questions you'd like to see them answer; we'll compile the most interesting and publish them next week ahead of the Democrat's convention.

1. How will your administration change the firefighting grant programs like SAFER and AFG?
Since the inception of these grant programs AFG 2001 and SAFER in 2003, there's been a perpetual battle over how much money the fire service wants, how much the administration puts in its annual budget and how much Congress authorizes. The next president will have some sway in how much money is allocated for these long-standing funding sources.

Added to this is the very real concern over the future of the grant programs. Both will disappear on Jan. 2, 2018 without congressional reauthorization. How much influence the next president will have on this is unclear, but it's worth knowing where each candidate stands on it.

2. What will you do about the growing wildland-urban interface fire problem?
The Congressional Fire Service Institute reports that wildland fires account for 50 percent of the U.S. Forest Service's annual budget despite 80 percent of wildland fires being knocked down by local departments. In short, big fires carry big price tags. And those big fires have gotten bigger and more frequent in recent years.

In addition to questions surrounding suppression costs, there are questions regarding how to pay for mitigation efforts and how to fund those local departments — often volunteer — responsible for containing those 80 percent of the fires.

3. What level of support would your administration give to PSOB legislation?
As last year's well-publicized fight to get benefits for firefighters and other responders still struggling with 9/11-related illnesses, public safety officers' benefits are far from a won battle. This summer, both houses of Congress are considering bills to boost PSOB laws to make the process more streamlined and accountable.

And it is no great stretch to see the call for more PSOB help as we better understand the relationship between firefighting and cancer and mental health problems. It will be important to know how much pressure and in which direction the Oval Office would apply to this issue.

4. What is your position on government-mandated building safety?
In many ways the debate over mandatory sprinklers and fire-safe building codes gets at the heart of the more "government vs. less government" ideological divide.

Some in the fire service have fought pitched battles at the local level for residential sprinkler requirement and stricter building codes. And those fights have been taken up at the national level.

How the candidates come down on these issues may seem predictable by party affiliation, but they still need to be addressed on the record.

5. How will Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement change under your administration?
If the convergence of an aging population and the Great Recession taught us anything about fire-based EMS, it is that it cannot survive on property or sales tax alone. The number of EMS runs is up, and there's no reduced cost by volume like you may see in manufacturing.

In many cases, a fire department's ability to keep stations open, firefighters employed and the population protected may come down to how much money it can recoup from federal health care programs. This political hot potato has real meaning for fire departments.  

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