What does the Congressional Fire Services Institute Have To Do With First Responders?
By Bill Webb
Shortly after attending Fire Rescue International in Charlotte, I received a call from Gwen Shuford, managing editor of this publication. She saw some literature we displayed at our booth about the mission of the Congressional Fire Services Institute and asked if I would be interested in writing a monthly column to update readers about our work in Washington, DC. I always look forward to sharing information about our work at CFSI (Congressional Fire Services Institute) with the fire service community. It’s important work that benefits all firefighters and emergency services personnel. But before I do, I’d like to devote a few lines to explain who we are.
CFSI was established in 1989 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy institute. Our existence has a lot to do with a fire that occurred in a congressional office building in 1987 and a member of Congress who acted quickly to extinguish the fire. The member of Congress was Curt Weldon, a newly elected member from the state of Pennsylvania. I am assuming that many of you know of him as he has traveled the country addressing fire service conferences in literally every state in the union.
Fortunately, the fire was extinguished and nobody was injured. But what the fire revealed was the neglect for fire safety and prevention in the structures where federal laws were written and enacted: the United States Capitol and the congressional office buildings. Shortly after the incident, Weldon formed the Congressional Fire Service Caucus, comprised of Republican and Democratic members of Congress. It didn’t take long for the Fire Caucus to become the largest caucus in Congress — and to this day it remains the most recognized and effective caucuses.
The purpose of the Fire Caucus is to provide a forum where members of Congress can increase their understanding of the fire service and the federal programs that benefit our firefighters and emergency services personnel. Six members of the North Carolina congressional delegation are members of the Fire Caucus: Senator Richard Burr, Congressman David Price, Congressman David Rouzer, Congressman Richard Hudson, Congressmen Patrick McHenry and Congressman Mark Meadows. South Carolina has four members serving: Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, and Congressmen James Clyburn and Joe Wilson. Caucus members are under no obligation to support pieces of legislation; instead, membership in the caucus sends a signal to local fire departments that a member is interested in learning more about his/her local fire departments.
Two years after the formation of the Fire Caucus, CFSI was established. Our primary mission in Washington, DC is education. We perform our mission by conducting briefings, issuing white papers, organizing meetings and responding to daily inquiries prompted by issues Congress is considering that impact our nation’s fire and emergency services.
The strength of CFSI lies in its National Advisory Committee, comprised of 38 national fire and emergency services organizations. The NAC convenes semi-annually to discuss issues that the national fire organizations can address together on Capitol Hill — issues such as reauthorization of the Assistance to Firefighters and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant programs and funding for the United States Fire Administration and National Fire Academy. Working with different coalitions of stakeholders, we advocate for legislation that would provide economic incentives for the retrofit of fire sprinkler systems in buildings and for the adoption of statewide building codes.
For 29 years, CFSI has hosted the National Fire and Emergency Services Symposium and Dinner in Washington, DC. Over 1,500 fire service leaders from across the nation attend the program, including representatives of the North Carolina fire service. Their time is spent in meetings with members of Congress, seminars covering a broad range of national issues and private discussions with their colleagues. It’s the one opportunity out of the year where the fire service can make a visible presence on Capitol Hill. The two-day event culminates with the National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner.
CFSI is widely known on Capitol Hill; we are not as well-known outside the Washington Beltway, primarily because we are not a membership-based organization that represents a facet of the fire service — e.g., chiefs, career, volunteers and instructors. Part of my reason for accepting this opportunity to write articles for this publication is to make readers more aware of our mission. We are always eager to hear what’s on the minds of fire service personnel and to let them know how they can get engaged in the collective efforts of the national fire organizations in Washington, DC.
And as you read my articles, please do not hesitate to send me an email to let me know what you think. We are more effective when we can convey to Congress how decisions made by our legislators impact first responders at the local level. My email address is [email protected]
Bill Webb has served as Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute since 1995. CFSI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy institute designed to enhance congressional awareness about the concerns and needs of the fire and emergency services. As Executive Director, he works closely with members of Congress and fire service leaders to sustain support on Capitol Hill for programs and legislation that benefit our nation’s fire and emergency services. Before joining CFSI, Webb worked for the Firefighter Combat Challenge as the project manager for the competition. He currently serves as Vice Chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and is an honorary member of the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department, the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters’ Association and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 36.
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