Fire Service Leaders Cultivate Relationships at CFSI’s 26th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner and Seminars Program

Each year, the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) has the distinct honor of hosting the annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner and Seminars Program.  The event brings together fire and emergency services leaders from across the country to our nation’s capital.  During their stay, they meet with their members of Congress, attend the CFSI seminars program, and come together as one fire service for a special dinner program honoring the dedication and service of our nation’s one million first responders.

The theme of the 26th annual program, that took place on April 30-May 1 in Washington, DC, was “Cultivating Relationships.”  Upwards of 2,000 fire service leaders from across the country attended the program.  This was not a social gathering by any stretch, but a unique opportunity to learn and participate in the legislative and policy implementation processes.  For veterans and neophytes of this program alike, important work is accomplished at the annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner and Seminars Program that has a far-reaching effect on federal programs that benefit our nation’s first responders.  This is why CFSI continues to conduct this event and encourage a large turnout – to cultivate relationships with political leaders who determine the federal government’s commitment to important fire and emergency services programs.

Before commenting on the dinner, I’d like to discuss the seminars program.  No other event in the fire service covers such a broad range of important federal issues – nor does any other event feature such a broad array of distinguished and knowledgeable experts on national fire service issues.  Our seminar presenters included 32 association leaders, 6 federal officials, and 8 members of Congress.  They are experts in such areas as first responder communications, emergency medical services, building codes, leadership, public safety education, health and wellness, and lobbying.  Our federal presenters were there to listen how our government can be more responsive to the concerns and needs of the fire and emergency services.

While CFSI was delivering an educational experience for all attendees, there were separate meetings and business taking place by other organizations and individual groups.   There is not another opportunity during the year for such meetings between leaders of so many diverse organizations.  Business cards were exchanged and new business relationships were formed.  Industry leaders conversed with fire officials, while many of our participants were walking the halls of Congress and meeting with their elected representatives.

This was my 19th dinner as CFSI’s Executive Director and arguably the best one from my perspective.   Five of our fire caucus leaders participated in the dinner program.  Senator Tom Carper (DE) , Congressman Steny Hoyer (MD-5), Congressman Peter King (NY-2), and Congressman Bill Pascrell (NJ-9) all addressed the dinner attendees, while Senator John McCain (AZ) once again addressed our Board of Directors Reception.  Many members of Congress would relish the opportunity to address such a large and esteemed audience of fire service officials, but few deserve the time behind the podium – most notably these members in addition to our three other caucus co-chairs – Senator Susan Collins (ME), Senator Jon Tester (MT) and Congressman Dave Reichert (WA-8), who addressed the opening session of our seminars program.

These are members who understand our issues…members who work with us on a daily basis to help the fire service become better prepared and trained.  They understand our culture, our traditions and our language.  Grant programs aren’t funded on their own, nor are federal agencies like the US Fire Administration or the National Fire Academy.  Positive changes to the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program require support from the Capitol Hill, as do efforts to enhance first responder communications.  To a large extent, we have our caucus leaders to thank for this work, which is why we always look forward to paying proper tribute to them at the Dinner.

The dinner also provides an opportunity to acknowledge fire service leaders and organizations for outstanding leadership.  Since 1999, CFSI and Motorola Solutions have presented the Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award to an individual for exemplary leadership at the local, state and national levels.  This year’s recipient was the Honorable James M. Shannon, President of the National Fire Protection Association who will be retiring shortly following an illustrious 23-year career with NFPA.

We co-sponsor an award with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation that recognizes organizations for outstanding leadership to advance the cause of firefighter health and safety.  This year we honored a government agency (the Office of the Fire Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) and a partnership between two organizations (the Oklahoma Council on Firefighter Training & INGEGRIS Heart Hospital).  The central focus of the award is to recognize organizations that are helping to advance the 16 Life Safety Initiatives developed by fire service leaders at Tampa, FL in 2004.

We also present two other prestigious awards: the Dr. Anne W. Phillips Award for Leadership in Fire Safety Education and the Excellence in Fire Service-Based EMS Awards.  With the support of the International Fire Service Training Association, we recognized Mary Marchone of the National Fire Academy with the Phillips awards.  The EMS award, co-sponsored by the MedicAlert Foundation, honored three recipients from the Volunteer, Career and Combination categories:  the Cullman County (AL) Association of Volunteer Fire Departments, the Memphis (TN) Fire Department and the Howard County (MD) Department of Fire and Rescue Services, respectively.

These are competitive awards with formal application processes.   It is indeed a distinct honor for the recipients to stand before national fire service leaders and receive these recognitions.    They have worked hard to achieve these honors and by doing so, have made the fire service stronger and communities across the nation safer.  We extend our thanks and appreciation to our co-sponsors for their continued support of the awards program.  Without them, this program would not be possible.

Our keynote speaker was Secretary Jeh Johnson of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  In his speech, the Secretary pledge to grow the department’s relationships with the fire and emergency service, stating that the department will continue to listen to the fire service to better understand our needs and concerns.  He spoke of the department’s commitment to the SAFER and AFG grant programs, enumerating the many ways both programs have addressed the needs of fire departments across the nation.   He also recognized our fire administrator, Chief Ernie Mitchell and the leadership he continues to provide at the federal level.

Cultivating Relationships…it is the mission of the Congressional Fire Services Institute.  The fire and emergency services stand to gain when nearly 2,000 fire and emergency services officials from all disciplines can gather together in Washington, DC and present a unified image to our leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.  We thank those who attended for their support and encourage others to contact our office to learn how they can engage in our efforts not only at our 2015 program, but every day during the year.  You can reach us at 202-371-1277 or [email protected].