The Fire Service Is on the Move
The fire service is justifiably proud of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, the largest legislative service organization on Capitol Hill. With more than 380 members of Congress involved, the caucus represents the first comprehensive approach to solving the fire problem at the federal level since the publication of America Burning 15 years ago.
But what does the caucus actually do tor the fire service? The largest caucus on Capitol Hill isn’t necessarily the most effective, and tackling a problem isn’t the same as solving it. The Congressional Fire Services Caucus is only a foundation on which we have to build. The fire service should constantly ask itself, “What have we accomplished?” and “What do we still have to do?”
The clock is still ticking on the accomplishments of the 101st Congress, but the list is already impressive. Several stalled bills have been put back on track in this Congress, and many other long-standing issues in the fire service have finally been acted on. The following recap will show you how far we’ve come and where we must focus our energies in the 102nd Congress.
- After three years of obstructions by special interest groups, the HotelMotel Fire Safety Act is about to pass the Senate without any adulterating amendments. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), founding co-chairman of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, sent a strong message to opponents of the bill during the Commerce Committee markup, saying that Congress should “respect the views of the experts—the fire safety community—on this bill.”
- An even longer battle was recently won with the passage of H R. 293, the Fire Safe Cigarette Act of 1989, just months after Congressman Doug Walgren (D-FA) took over the chairmanship of the subcommittee with jurisdiction. Walgren orchestrated a compromise on the deadlocked bill alter hearing from the fire service that fire-safe cigarette legislation was a number one priority.
- Olin Greene, a fire service candidate in the truest sense, was sworn in as U.S. Fire Administrator just days alter being lauded as “a man of exceptional integrity, skill, and knowledge” at Senate confirmation hearings.
- In direct response to the con-
- cerns of the fire service community, the House and Senate agreed to exempt halons used for firefighting purposes from far-reaching CFC restrictions in the Clean Air Act. The bill generally was considered unalterable by all but the most powerful lobbies.
- Comprehensive oil-spill legislation was amended at the last moment to address firefighting issues raised by the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. Legislation likely will be introduced in this Congress that focuses on the fire prevention and suppression aspects of oil spills.
- A user fee proposed in the Administration’s FY91 budget proposal for students attending the National Fire Academy was removed by the House Appropriations Committee. Members of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus sent a joint letter to the Appropriations Committee saying that
- such a tax on safety was a ‘‘dangerous precedent.”
- Congressman Claude Harris, chairman of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus Rural Fire Protection Task Force, amended the Farm Bill to include S40 million each year from fiscal years 1991 to 1995 for rural fire protection. Half of the money is earmarked for rural volunteer fire departments serving communities of 10,000 people or less.
- The Fallen Firefighters’ Memorial on the campus of the National Fire
- Academy, established in 1981, was designated by Congress as the National Fallen Firefighters’ Memorial.
- An amendment was included in a comprehensive anticrime bill, expected to pass this year, that provides disability benefits to firefighters who are permanently and totally disabled in the line of duty.
- The issue of the separation of the National Fire Academy from the U.S. Fire Administration received new attention with the nomination of Wallace Elmer Stickney, a former volunteer firefighter, as director of FEMA. The NFA was a major focus of Stickney’s confirmation hearing and will be resolved in the near future.
- The broadest definition of the needs and rights of the fire service ever to be proposed at the federal level, the Benjamin Franklin Memorial Fire Service Bill of Rights, gained the support of more than 280 members of Congress within days of its introduction. Strong support in both Houses has prepared it for passage less than a year after its introduction.
- The fire service has enjoyed the Administration’s renewed interest. President Bush and Vice President Quayle attended both major and minor fire service functions ranging from the annual National Fire and Emergency Service Dinner to local fire service events.
This is an impressive record of accomplishments for any constituency. It is especially significant for one whose presence on the federal level has been limited until very recently. Unfortunately, the list of issues left to tackle is still extensive: hazardous materials, public education, arson control, infectious disease notification, volunteer support, and firefighter training, to name a few. But while the road ahead of us is certainly longer than the road behind us, Congress should make no mistake: The fire service is on the move!