Fire Service Needs Legislation at State and Federal Levels

Fire Service Needs Legislation at State and Federal Levels

DEPARTMENTS

Legally Speaking

It would be interesting to know just how many persons affiliated with the fire service have determined what is included in the phrase “the protection of lives and property.” This amply describes the goals and purposes of our fire service, but what activities does or should it include?

James W. Morgan

Admittedly, it includes the operation of a day-today fire department. It includes training for all of the emergencies which may from time to time confront a fire department. Obviously, it includes maintenance of equipment and the many personnel problems which present themselves. Less obvious and sometimes totally neglected are the carrying out of adequate fire prevention programs. These and like type programs are the traditional fields of endeavor of our presentday fire departments. Is this enough? Is there more to be done, and if so, whose responsibility is it? Can a 20th Century fire department exist in a vacuum?

Years ago, when leather buckets and hand pumpers were the only tools available, it was probably true that individual fire departments had much less need to deal with each other. Times have changed. Today it is not at all uncommon to see four and five different organizations actively engaged at one conflagration. Motorized apparatus and communications have had a tremendous effect in this area and many others. Hence came today’s mutural aid concept. The result of these gradual transitions can be readily seen by any student of the fire service.

Some fields of interest within the fire service always appear as background items. Of course, each division and interest of the fire service feels that their area is most important. Each is as important as the other. Like a pyramid, removal of any one block is likely to cause a collapse. One area of the fire service program deserves more discussion today. It is indeed surprising how an industry the magnitude of the fire service exists without a more highly organized legislative endeavor. At the state and federal level the need exists for solid legislative programs. It is the contention of this writer that responsibility for legislative programs rests squarely upon each fire department in this country. Both state and federal legislative programs indicate quite clearly the fact that these programs are not being effectively pursued.

It must be remembered that there are two distinct types of legislation to consider. The first is the type which the fire service formulates and introduces. They have a distinct interest in seeing that their own programs are ultimately passed into law. The second type of legislation is that type which is introduced by others which affects the fire service. It is best to consider this as a defensive type action. Recently this writer had an opportunity to be involved in a situation which provides a good example of defensive-type legislation. In this case the construction industry was interested in implementing a building code which would allow windowless buildings to be constructed. It was my feeling that their motives were pure and that many of their reasons were valid. They pointed out that construction costs would be lower; some persons thought the beauty of the building would be enhanced; the internal layout of the building would be more easily accomplished; employees would not be distracted by the windows. The only problem was the fact that fire service leaders had a problem because of the fact that access was definitely impaired in the event of fire. As it turned out, negotiations were successful in satisfying both interests. The point here is the fact that an awareness and representation must be had to cope with such situations before harm is done.

It is equally important that the fire service be mindful of the fact that legislative programs should include the activities of administrative agencies as well as the more formal branches of government. In short, there is no other group as familiar with fire service problems as the fire service themselves. The responsibility rests squarely with the fire service. With the many organizations already available in the fire service, it requires little change to incorporate strong legislative programs into existing organizations. Much help can be derived from our national associations which are already in existence in the field.

In order to implement the foregoing it is essential that grassroots communications within the fire service be greatly augmented. It is surprising, indeed, the number of departments who “never get the word.” Investigation reveals that many departments do not belong to any association or group. Oftentimes many chief officers are not members of a group or association. The net effect of this situation is a failure in communications. Often it is the same persons who don’t get the word who complain that they weren’t informed. Make no mistake, it is the responsibility of each and every department to keep themselves informed regarding development in the fire service. No one should be heard to complain that a program was not explained to them.

It is also important to remember that the communications problem is to be considered on both the state and national level. An effective means must be established to keep the entire fire service aware of federal activities which affect the fire service. Again the question arises as to how such a program can be implemented. Fortunately, one who poses a problem doesn’t necessarily have to solve the problem. It would appear, however, that a form of state or national newsletter must be developed in order that all fire departments in our country may be cognizant of matters affecting the fire service. It is conceivable that there are many who feel that the uninformed should not be catered to. This should not be the feeling. If all persons affiliated with the fire service, who are not informed become informed, even casually, then it follows that they should in many instances desire to become better informed. This undoubtedly would go a long way toward strengthening existing state and national groups.

The magnitude of tire problems confronting the fire service today clearly dictates that a concerted effort is necessary from every segment of the fire service to cope with problems and advance the cause of adequate fire protection. The achievement of these goals can best be accomplished by larger and better informed fire service. Is the time upon us when effort in this area is an absolute essential?

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