FIRE SERVICE LEGISLATION PASSES

FIRE SERVICE LEGISLATION PASSES

CAPITOL CONNECTION

In a year marred by bickering, inaction, and scandal—and shortened by the Presidential election—Congress and the Administration enacted five laws vital to the fire service and began work on at least two more.

I am delighted when I hear that hundreds of members of Congress belong to the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. We all love to see thousands of people attend the annual Caucus dinner. But the one result that I most like discussing is which bills passed. It is an impressive list. Five bills were signed into law:

  • The United States Fire Administration (USFA) Authorization, essentially the law that allows the USFA and the National Fire Academy to stay in business.
  • The Firefighter Memorial Act, sponsored by Maryland Sen. Raul Sarbanes, which will make it possible for the survivors of fallen firefighters to attend the annual memorial services
  • in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
  • Technical changes to the Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act. These changes will make the law more enforceable and actually tighten some provisions.
  • The Federal Fire Safety Act, sponsored by Virginia Congressman Rick Boucher, which requires the federal government to sprinkler many of its own new and renovated buildings— whether owned or leased—plus some public and military’ housing. This may well be the most progressive piece of fire legislation in recent history.
  • The Fire Fighter Bill of Rights, sponsored by Caucus Founder Rep. Curt Weldon. This bill authorizes the production and sale of a medal, with proceeds to be divided among the various national fire groups. The Bill of Rights came back from the dead more times than Elvis and required more lobbying than the average tax bill, but sheer determination won out.
  • Vermont Sen. James Jefford’s “Workers’ Family Protection Act,” which directs the Department of Labor to examine the effect on family health of hazardous materials inadvertently carried home on workers’ clothing. This bill was appended to the package of legislation described above within days of the end of the 1991-92 session of Congress. Although this last-minute act nearly killed the entire package, hard work and negotiating by Senate and House
  • Republicans got the bills passed.
  • One bill—the Federal Arson Prevention, Research and Control Act— was introduced in mid-September by Boucher and Weldon for serious action next year.

    And work began on two measures:

  • Federal tax incentives to promote fire safety.
  • The redesign of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—home of the USFA. FEMA has been bloodied by Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who charges that FEMA has become a dumping ground for Republican flacks. Whether she is right or wrong, she’s powerful and a consistent friend of the fire service. The big question here is, Where will the USFA end up after the inevitable demolition of FEMA?

DEBITS AND CREDIT

Some national fire groups rushed to take credit for the bills. They don’t deserve it. Some national groups actually stood in the way of the bills that passed. The credit belongs to a dozen or so individual fire officials and a handful of congressional staff members, agency officials, and lobbyists who worked hard, worked smart, and worked fast but mostly refused to quit until the job was done. Helping them at key points were a few members of Congress—people such as Sens. Richard Bryan, Sarbanes, and Mikulski and Reps. Weldon, Boucher, and Sherry Boehlert of New York, who truly care about life safety and help every chance they get.

The fire service is known by its heroes. This time out, the big heroes included the following:

  • USFA Administrator Olin Greene, who testified in favor of the Federal Fire Safety Act (UR 3360) over the objection of Administration officials who feared the cost of installing sprinklers in federal buildings. Greene, with the blessing of FEMA Director Wallace Stickney, risked his job but ultimately set the tone for Republican support of the bill.
  • Lieutenant Nick Russell of the Chicago (1L) Fire Department and president of the African-American Fire Fighters League of Chicago, who testified in favor of HR 3360 before the cantankerous chairman of the House Public Buildings and Grounds Subcommittee, Illinois Rep. Gus Savage. Subcommittee staff wanted the bill gutted. But after Russell finished testifying, HR 3360 was saved and the last we saw him, he and Savage were headed for a tour of the Capitol.
  • Chet Henry, the former fire commissioner of Pennsylvania, and his colleagues, who persuaded Rep. Bob Walker—the most senior Republican on the House Science Committee —to throw his name behind HR 3360.
  • Nevada State Fire Marshal Ray Blehm, legislative committee chairman of the National Association of State Fire Marshals, who testified brilliantly before Sen. Bryan’s Consumer Subcommittee and who kept all of his state fire marshal counterparts from Maine to California involved in the battle.
  • Bob Kilpeck and the Vermont firefighters who hammered their senator, James Jeffords, for tacking on a last-minute amendment that came close to killing four of the five bills in the waning moments of Congress. Jeffords’ amendment ended up passing, but not before stirring up a tradtional fire service hornet’s nest beyond his wildest dreams.
  • House Science Subcommittee staff members Brad Penney, David Goldston (legislative staff member of the year), and Carrye Brown, who ran interference for much of the legislation at every step; Sen. Bryan’s legislative assistant Andy Vermilye, who worked closely with Brad Penney and company; and Andy Weis and Doug Ritter of Congressman Weldon’s office.
  • Bill Reimann and the volunteers in Bad Axe, Michigan, who convinced their representative, Bob Traxler, chairman of the Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, to spare the USFA from the deep cuts made to FEMA. And just about everyone in the Maryland fire service— especially State Fire Marshal Rocco Gabriele and volunteer Bob Cumberland—who let Sens. Mikulsi and Sarbanes know how they could best help.
  • Jack Ward, Steve Austin, Bob Whitemore, and a few of their pals at the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), who showed Rep. Boucher how to fight arson. The result is an intelligently written piece of legislation.
  • The SAFE KIDS Coalition’s Bill Kamella, hotel industry lobbyist Brian Kinsella, concrete/masonry industry lobbyist Randy Pence, the sprinkler industry’s John Viniello and Mike Friedman, FEMA lobbyist Greg Moreau, and General Services Administration’s Henry Singer—who all made important suggestions and helped with passage of the package.

The list could be a bit longer. Folks from New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Missouri, Texas, Florida, Washington, Delaware, and Rhode Island belong on it. Chief Raul LoSoya of San Antonio, Texas, was a big help. End of list, folks. ’

A lot of people promised to help but never got around to it. Some of them simply got confused or lost. But who cares? We have something important to celebrate. The Congressional Fire Services Caucus no longer has great potential…it now has great resuits!

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