“….to educate Members of Congress about fire and life safety issues.”
Whether you are a firefighter, emergency services responder, manufacturer or fire service leader, the United States Congress is more aware of your concerns because of the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI). Established in 1989 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy institute, CFSI is designed to educate members of Congress about the needs and challenges of our nation’s fire and emergency services so that the federal government provides the types of training and funding needed by our first responders.
Members of Congress often turn to CFSI for its knowledge that penetrates the inner workings of Capitol Hill and the various facets of the fire and emergency services – from culture of the fire service and various associations that represents different disciplines to the technology and training being developed by industry. Because of our nonpartisan nature, CFSI is a proven source for accurate and objective information on fire service issues. That is why CFSI has achieved unparalleled success in consensus building…not only on Capitol Hill, but among fire service organizations as well.
For CFSI, success is built around education. Each year, we provide a series of educational activities, mostly through hands-on training programs, to sensitize Congress about the challenges facing the fire service. We offer basic training programs in structural and wildland firefighting and special briefing to discuss pending fire service legislation. We publish white papers for Congress to share with them the consensus position of the fire service on federal fire programs and legislation.
Our motto is simple: “So That First Responders Never Stand Alone.” Although you often find yourself alone performing dangerous work, CFSI stands in your place on Capitol Hill working to insure that your actions and needs are being heard by federal legislators.
CONGRESSIONAL FIRE SERVICES CAUCUS
In 1987, Congressman Curt Weldon, a former fire chief from Marcus Hook, PA, began his first term as representative of the Seventh Congressional District of Pennsylvania.Late one evening, Weldon was working in his Capitol Hill office when he detected the faint smell of smoke coming from outside the office. Looking down the hallway, he saw smoke billowing from the office of Jim Wright, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Even though the office was overwhelmed by smoke and fire, the building did not have a warning system to evacuate the occupants. No smoke alarms. No automatic sprinkler systems.No safety system whatsoever.
Shortly thereafter, Congressman Weldon appealed to Speaker Wright to help him form a caucus dedicated to fire and life safety issues. There was no hesitation on the part of the Speaker.He offered his support which lead to the formation of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus.
Established in 1987, the Congressional Fire Services Caucus quickly gained support in both the House and Senate from both sides of the political aisle.Recognizing that public safety was not a partisan issue, Weldon was committed to creating a bipartisan caucus that would unite Republicans and Democrats alike around the cause of public safety.
To succeed, Weldon needed a core group of members who could serve with him as co-chairs of this new organization.Four members were selected: Senator Al Gore, Senator John McCain, Congressman Doug Walgren and Congressman Sherwood Boehlert. Shortly thereafter, caucus membership rapidly grew and fire caucus eventually became the largest caucus in Congress with over 375 members.
Throughout the years, leadership has changed with the retirement of veteran members and the election of new members. Yet despite the changes, the leadership has maintained a consistent approach to addressing fire and emergency services issues on Capitol Hill. Partisan politics has never been interjected into the Fire Caucus. To the credit of the leaders, the Caucus has always addressed issues in the spirit of bipartisanship.
For 20 years, Congressman Weldon was the primary catalyst on fire service issues in Congress, introducing and shepherding legislation through the House.However Weldon lost his bid for reelection in 2006, creating a void in the Caucus leadership.
Fortunately, the other leaders remained steadfast, while new members stepped forward to fill the void. Today, the Fire Caucus leadership is comprised of eight members — four from the House and four from the Senate. They include the chairman, Congressman Bill Pascrell (NJ-9), and seven co-chairs: Senator John McCain (AZ), Senator Tom Carper (DE), Senator Susan Collins (ME), Senator Jon Tester (MT), Congressman Steny Hoyer (MD-5), Congressman Peter King (NY-2), and Congressman Dave Reichert (WA-8).
CONGRESSIONAL FIRE SERVICES INSTITUTE
For the first two years, educating members of Congress about the fire and emergency services was the responsibility of Fire Caucus leaders. But it became apparent that a different approach was needed – one that would facilitate an exchange of information between Congress and the major fire service organizations to help members of Congress understand how the federal government could address the needs and challenges of the fire and emergency services.
In 1989, the Congressional Fire Services Institute was formed as a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy institute designed to educate Congress about the fire and emergency services. The role of CFSI within the fire service community has been to facilitate discussions and develop consensus on the core issues being addressed by the major fire service organizations. Unlike the other major fire service organizations, CFSI is not a membership organization in the traditional sense. While it is governed by a Board of Directors that assumes an important role in the operational functions of the organization, the strength of CFSI lies in its National Advisory Committee, a group of the leading national fire and emergency services organizations that play a critical role in developing CFSI’s legislative agenda.
CFSI NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE (NAC)
The NAC convenes semi-annually in Washington, DC to allow member organizations to exchange information and collectively address important first responder issues emanating in Congress and within the Administration. During each meeting, a member organization can introduce a resolution that would call on the Institute to take a position on a specific issue. If the committee approves the resolution (a super majority is needed) it is submitted to the CFSI Board of Directors for final approval. With Board approval, the CFSI staff can then take an active role in advocating for a specific issue.
The NAC leadership consists of a Chair and Vice Chair, both elected to a maximum of two consecutive, one-year terms. Since the formation of the NAC, there have been 10 chairpersons, all prominent fire service leaders at the national level. They include: Jim Estepp, Mary McCormack, Steve Austin, Anthony O’Neill, Roman Kaminski, Dennis Compton, Alan Caldwell, Richard Patrick, Steve Edwards, Kevin O’Connor, Eddie Buchanan, Jim Dalton, and Doug Aiken (current chair).
Throughout the years, CFSI has worked closely with Fire Caucus leaders on a broad range of NAC-endorsed issues. Each of these issues has had a significant impact on the health and safety of our nation’s firefighters and emergency services personnel. Considerable time and effort has been expended by both Fire Caucus leaders and CFSI on these issues throughout the years. Legislative victories do not come easy. They require patience, perseverance and cooperation on the part of both the Congress and the fire service. Serving the role of facilitators in this process has been the role of both the Fire Caucus and CFSI.
The results of their efforts are conclusive. Since 2001, Congress has appropriated over $9 billion in funding for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant Program. This is due in large part to the work of the Fire Caucus leadership and CFSI in keeping all stakeholders focused and working together. Even in recent years when Congress has reduced funding for a number of grant programs, AFG and SAFER have been spared from any significant cuts because of CFSI’s efforts. The same can be said of the United States Fire Administration. Despite efforts by the Administration in recent years to make significant cuts to USFA’s budget, CFSI has worked with Congress to stave off most of these cuts. Yet our biggest challenge awaits us and this will require the full support of the fire service if we are to prevail. The most recent legislation that reauthorized both AFG and SAFER contains a sunset provision that will eliminate both programs by 2017. Whether we succeed in striking this provision from the current law will depend in large part to the collective efforts of all the national organizations and Fire Caucus leadership.
CFSI also continues to work on other public safety measures through a number of coalitions. These measures address fire sprinklers, model building codes, the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program, campus fire safety, among other important issues.Because of our experienced staff and vast network of partners, we are able to contribute a unique blend of expertise and resources to a broad range of issues that have commanded the attention on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
CFSI EDUCATION PROGRAMS
Each year, CFSI offers a series of programs to educate members of Congress and their staff about the fire and emergency services. Although they understand the basic mission of the fire and emergency services, not all realize the level of training, equipment and staffing needed by fire departments to execute their missions — especially in a post 9/11 world. Approximately 200 congressional staff attend our programs each year to increase their knowledge about the fire and emergency services and they share this knowledge with their members of Congress.
The most popular program is the annual Congressional Firefighter Training Program. Conducted jointly by CFSI and the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, the hands-on training program places the participants in actual turn-out gear, including SCBA’s. During the program, they perform a series of training evolutions under the watchful eyes of professional fire service instructors.Each year, over 75 congressional staff participate in the program, exposing them to the extraordinary demands of the fire service profession.
CFSI also hosts a Ride-Along program for members of Congress and their staffs with the support of the local area fire departments. Assigned to various stations throughout the DC-metropolitan region, congressional staff ride aboard apparatus to emergencies, watching firefighters and rescue personnel perform their missions. They witness the swift and decisive actions of first responders as they respond to fires, medical emergencies, extrications and other life-saving missions.
On Capitol Hill, CFSI conducts briefings and presentations throughout the year for members and their staff that focus on pending legislation or federal programs. CFSI often includes other leaders of the fire and emergency services who possess knowledge in specific areas to participate.
Education is the cornerstone of our mission. With the support of our partnering organizations and fire caucus leaders, we have built from the initial cornerstone set in 1989 a rising structure of understanding and awareness about the fire service on Capitol Hill.
NATIONAL FIRE AND EMERGENCY DINNER AND SEMINARS PROGRAM: A TRIBUTE TO OUR NATION’S FIRST RESPONDERS
The annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner is widely regarded as the preeminent event in the American fire and emergency services. Attended by 2,000 state, local, and national fire service leaders, the event honors the men and women of our nation’s fire and emergency services who dedicate their lives to the safety of others.
Featuring our nation’s highest ranking political leaders, the Dinner has a rich history of distinguished keynote speakers, including three Presidents, four Vice Presidents, cabinet officials from four administrations ,and leading members of Congress. President George H.W. Bush addressed the first dinner in 1989. He was followed by President Clinton who spoke twice, the second time in 1994 following the terrorist attack in Oklahoma City. President George W. Bush delivered the keynote address in 2002, paying tribute to the valor and sacrifices of the firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11.Vice Presidents Dan Quayle, Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden also have served as keynote speakers.
The Dinner has also attracted its share of celebrities from Hollywood. The late-Charlton Heston and the crew from the movie Backdraft, including Ron Howard, director, and Kurt Russell, actor, attended the event as did the late-McLean Stevenson, a burn survivor and an American actor most recognized for his role as Lt. Colonel Henry Blake on the TV series M*A*S*H. In 1998, Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News and a former volunteer firefighter, was a featured speaker as was Randolph Mantooth, star of the popular 1970’s television medical drama Emergency who spoke a few years later.
Fire and emergency services leaders are recognized each year during the dinner program for outstanding leadership. The Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership award is the most prestigious award presented in the fire service for individual leadership. The Senator Paul S. Sarbanes Fire Service Safety Leadership Award recognizes organizations for promoting firefighter health and safety. The Excellence in Fire Service-Based EMS is awarded to career, volunteer, and combination departments for innovations in the delivery of emergency medical services. And the Dr. Anne W. Phillips Award for Leadership in Fire Safety Education honors individuals for exemplary contributions to public safety education.
The National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner is a unique event in Washington in that it brings together leaders from both sides of the political aisle and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in the spirit of bipartisanship. The speeches and tributes reflect our nation’s appreciation for the men and women who respond each year to the more than 31 million emergency calls. Those who have attended can appreciate the full meaning of the event. Those who have not attended should consider doing so to understand the value of the program in forging stronger partnerships between our elected officials and fire service leaders.
Delivering Local Messages to Our Federal Leaders: The Value of the CFSI Seminars Program and Congressional Meetings
No other program in the fire and emergency services provides such a unique opportunity for fire service leaders to engage federal leaders in discussions about homeland security issues — issue that emanate at the federal level and impact first responders at the local level. The Seminars program covers a broad range of salient federal issues, featuring presentations from subject matter experts from Congress, the federal agencies and the national fire service organizations. Previous topics have included the wildland/urban interface, first responder communications, AFG/SAFER grant programs, the USFA/NFA agenda, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, understanding the legislative process, fire safety education and a litany of other issues.
During the seminars, panelists engage in discussions with those seated in the audience, answering questions and commenting on concerns — whether local or national in scope — expressed by audience participants. This is where fire officials can deliver messages from their local government officials about funding challenges back home. It is where they can have face-to-face conversations with key decision makers and initiate important working relations.
When not participating in these seminars, fire officials are encouraged to walk the halls of Congress and conduct meetings with their own representatives. It is a compelling image when fire officials from all parts of the country are seen on Capitol Hill making their way to these meetings. The week of the National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner has become recognized as “Fire Week” on Capitol Hill, and members are well aware of the large fire service presence.They make every effort to meet with their local fire service leaders to hear their concerns and discuss federal programs benefiting the fire service.
Why Should You Attend This Program?
The National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner and Seminars Program is a unique learning experience.During a time when local communities are forced to scale back on spending, this program serves a critical role in generating federal support for local first responders. The presence of 2,000 fire officials on Capitol Hill advocating for continued support for federal fire programs has an immeasurable impact on the federal fire service agenda. As former House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” When members of Congress can hear the same messages being delivered during a two-day period by their local first responders, those messages will resonate throughout the halls of Congress.
Moreover, this is a fundraising program for the Congressional Fire Services Institute. To a large extent, our ability to perform our mission — whether it is conducting training and ride-along programs, hosting briefings and workshops, or developing white papers — depends on the support we receive at the National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner and Seminars Program. CFSI is a privately-funded organization; it does not receive government support. This includes AFG and SAFER grants despite all the work the Institute has performed in support of these two programs.
If you ever have questions about CFSI’s mission, please contact our office at 202-371-1277.And if your travels ever bring you to Washington, DC and you have some time to spare, please drop by our office.