A Divided Congress:
It’s Something that a United Fire Service Can Certainly Overcome
As many political prognosticators predicted, election night turned into a split decision on Capitol Hill. While the Republicans picked-up one seat in the Senate, the Democrats on the House-side took control of the gavel. So, what does that mean? More gridlock? I can’t imagine there will be any more gridlock then there has been in previous Congresses.
For the fire service, any change in leadership in either the House or Senate should have a minimal impact on our work — that is as long as we maintain a non-partisan approach and continue working with both Republican and Democrat legislators.
Now that the 116th Congress has convened, members of the fire service should start establishing working relationships with their representatives. Ninety-eight newly-elected members from the House and Senate were sworn in on January 3rd, most of whom are unfamiliar with existing federal programs that benefit the fire service. If we expect their support, we must be the ones providing the information to them that describes the positive impact programs such as the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs have at the local level. Regardless of party affiliations, the fire service must engage all members of Congress in our issues — and that requires the ground troops at the local level — including volunteers and career, chiefs, fire marshals, instructors, fire investigators and members of the fire industry — to carry forward our message.
The 115th Congress was very successful for the fire service. I would contend it was our most successful in recent memory. We convinced Congress to reauthorize AFG, SAFER and the United States Fire Administration. We prevailed in getting the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act approved. We secured long sought-after tax incentives for the retrofit of automatic fire sprinkler systems. And we scored a victory with passage of the Disaster Recovery Reform Act, a measure that should have a positive impact for states threatened by natural disasters by offering them incentives for adopting enforcing nationally- recognized building codes. But it’s a new year and a new Congress 9.
The national fire organizations are in the process of establishing a legislative agenda for 2019. While each organization will develop an agenda of their own that addresses the interests of their respective memberships, they will also work together in developing an agenda will require their collective efforts of all organizations. And that is when we will turn to you to get involved. Once we establish a joint agenda, we will ask each of you to work with us in educating Congress — educating them about the challenges you face as local first responders and the need for federal support to address those challenges. The first step you can take is to ask your members of Congress to join the Congressional Fire Services Caucus if they have not already. The Fire Caucus is one of the largest and most influential caucuses in Congress, uniting Republicans and Democrats in support of fire service initiatives that benefit all first responders.
CFSI will be updating its website throughout the coming year with legislation being introduced in Congress that impacts the fire service. We encourage you to visit us at www.cfsi.org periodically for the updates. There will be times when Congress considers legislation, and we will need to deliver messages to them about our position. Timing is everything in the legislative process. Any delay in delivering a message can have a negative impact on the legislative outcome. We need your involvement!
CFSI extends to you best wishes for a healthy and Happy 2019 and looks forward to keeping you apprised of our work in the coming year.
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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