“Keeping Our Eye on the Ball” – Conference Recap

by Dave Gatton and John Granby

Since FAMA and FEMSA members convened in Toronto, first responders have continued to be newsworthy as wildfires in the west threaten life and homes in the Bay Area and Southern California. It seems that firefighters and emergency responders are constantly on national news doing what they do best—saving people from natural and man-made disasters. This visibility and birds-eyeview of how dangerous their jobs can be, only helps to cement in the public’s mind how important first responders are to public safety.

Alongside these images on the evening news, is the extremely rare Congressional consideration of the impeachment process. Washington will be consumed by this issue in the coming months, and as the public hearings begin, it may seem that they will command all of our attention. It would be easy to assume that nothing else will get done in Washington as the impeachment process unfolds, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

The appropriations process must still be completed for FY 2020, which began October 1. Not having completed their appropriations bills, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution that keeps federal agencies open through November 21, giving them more time to reach agreement on a final package.

This process remains crucial for the Fire Service. As Bill Webb mentioned in his Toronto presentation in the House FY 2020 DHS appropriations bill, AFG and SAFER were given a combined $50 million increase. Each program would be funded at $375 million. In the Senate Appropriations committee, both AFG and SAFER received a $5 million increase. As House and Senate appropriations members meet, they will need to iron out their differences. These discussions will be critical for FAMA and FEMSA members.

Unfortunately, the DHS appropriations process is now one of the most controversial appropriations bills, as it contains a variety of immigration issues including the famed border wall. The fire service will need to remain vigilant to ensure that we receive increases in our priority programs despite these controversies.

In Toronto we talked about how the fire service, in this super-charged political environment, is at least one group that does not ask one’s party affiliation when they enter a burning home, rescue a person from a crushed vehicle, respond to terrorist attack or save someone from a tornado or hurricane. First responders don’t see the color of a person’s skin, their political party, their social status or their income when they respond to an emergency. They see a person in need; a person whose life needs saving.

In this day and age when Americans trust their governmental institutions less and less, there is one encouraging sign. The American public ranks local government, and by extension the fire service, as the one level of government that still works and is there for them. For the most part, public servants at this level of government have yet to fall prey to ideological differences. Perhaps this is because they are closest to the people they represent and their direct needs are more real, more urgent, and more compelling.

As part of the fire service, it is our responsibility to remind the public that local government works, and that people can in fact come together. Yes, it will be easy to be distracted, but don’t be fooled. Congress will continue to do its appropriations work whatever is happening elsewhere in Congress. We will need to keep our “eye on the ball,” and to make sure our first responders are protected with the equipment and apparatus they need

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