Dear CFSI Supporter --
I am writing to give you an update on what the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) is doing to continue its mission under these most extraordinary circumstances. While our office is closed until COVID-19 can be contained and government officials can end mandatory stay-at-home orders, the CFSI staff have continued to work remotely during the pandemic.
Postponing the 32nd Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Symposium and Dinner was never a question once the World Health Organization declared the global pandemic on March 11th. But as you know, the event is our major fundraising program. The contributions we receive from our supporters enable CFSI to perform its mission. After four months of planning and preparations, we looked forward to hosting an event that would have celebrated our achievements as a united fire and emergency services, and recognized individuals and organizations for their outstanding leadership. Instead, we are exploring options for another event later in the year.
We have convened a task force to work with the CFSI staff in developing ideas for an alternative program. While it will most likely be smaller in scale, it will offer us the opportunity to recognize the recipients of our four major awards and extend our thanks to our supporters for enabling us to perform our mission. We also intend to carve out time in the schedule for Hill visits - as we have always done – so our attendees can deliver messages to their representatives about supporting federal fire programs and legislation. We are working to finalize details, which we will share with you as soon as we are prepared to release them.
Despite the disruption to our normal work environment, we remain very active in communicating with Capitol Hill to advocate for our nation’s fire and emergency services. On the appropriations front, CFSI has taken a variety of actions within the past month to educate congressional staff on the needs of the fire and emergency services, including:
● On March 9, CFSI hosted a briefing for congressional staff to educate them on the importance of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and
Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program. FEMA’s Section Chiefs for AFG, SAFER, and Fire Prevention and Safety programs delivered presentations.
● CFSI drafted letters that were signed by national fire organizations and delivered to the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittees to request funding for the AFG and SAFER grant programs, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), and the Urban Search and Rescue Response System.
● CFSI led a similar effort with letters to the Appropriations Subcommittees on Labor, Health & Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies to request $2.5 million for the National Firefighter Cancer Registry.
● CFSI joined several other organizations in writing to the Interior Appropriations Subcommittees regarding funding for the State Fire Assistance and Volunteer Fire Assistance programs.
● CFSI assisted congressional staff in circulating sign-on letters to help generate congressional support for many of the aforementioned programs, including AFG and SAFER. CFSI has also taken part in ongoing efforts to call for greater federal support for firefighters and EMS personnel as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including:
● CFSI drafted a letter to Vice President Pence, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, and FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor. The letter asked that the agencies work to ensure that fire and EMS personnel receive vital personal protective equipment (PPE), increased access to COVID-19 testing, and prioritization for vaccines and drugs. The letter also asked for better communication from the Food and Drug Administration regarding drug shortages. CFSI was joined by 27 CFSI National Advisory Committee member organizations in sending this letter.
● CFSI cosigned a letter to Secretary Azar asking that COVID-19 be added to notification requirements under Section 2695 of the Public Health Service Act. COVID-19 was successfully added to the list.
● CFSI cosigned a letter to Secretary Azar requesting that firefighters and EMS personnel be considered Tier 1 with regard to prioritization for COVID-19 testing.
● CFSI cosigned a letter to Capitol Hill asking that the House and Senate include the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act (H.R.451/S.2748) in any coronavirus-related legislative packages moving through Congress.
● CFSI cosigned a letter to the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees asking that the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act (S.1210/H.R.1241) be included in any coronavirus-related legislative packages moving through Congress.
In addition, we have participated in various meetings and discussions on other important fire services issues. Prior to the pandemic declaration on March 11, I represented CFSI in the 2020 America Building Revisited Forum. Convened by USFA, the meeting was conducted to set potential priorities for USFA’s future direction and activities. We also recently participated in a Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program (PSOB) National Stakeholders conference call. The call is part of an ongoing effort between public safety organization representatives and the Bureau of Justice Assistance to ensure the proper administration of the PSOB program. And on May 1, we will conduct a virtual meeting of our National Advisory Committee (NAC). We anticipate important discussions among NAC members on the COVID-19 pandemic and what the federal government is doing in response to requests for greater support for our firefighters and emergency services personnel.
Like you, we are passionately committed to our work, knowing that our efforts can make a difference for our firefighters and emergency services personnel who are on the ground responding to the unrelenting calls for help during this crisis. We thank you for your continued support, and extend our best to you and your colleagues for good health, personal safety, and a strong resolve so we can all continue working together in protecting our fellow Americans.