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September 26, 2003

Fire ACT-ing and Firefighter DRINK-ing
Chief Billy Goldfeder

Two items of is how YOU are being treated and respected in Washington...and the 2nd, is how YOU and YOUR MEMBERS feel about TAKING CARE...of each other. Serious about "The Brotherhood and Sisterhood" stuff?'s a chance to prove it.

Should we crank up that song from Deliverance?....Get "them boys" with their banjo and guitar cranked up?...not yet?...we'll have to "wait and see" what happens. Wait and see?? This is NOT a new story..but it is one that is continuing down a questionable road.

I don't know about you, but history has often taught me that "waiting and seeing" often just gives "the other side" a chance to keep doing, what you are waiting to see that they MIGHT do to you, to begin with! How many "warning signs" do we need to figure out that this story may make the movie "Deliverance" look like a Disney children's classic. Hold that video JUST for a sec.....

We have written several pieces on WithTheCommand.Com regarding concern that we are getting "screwed with" by the current administration in Washington. The current "done deal" is about who is going to administer the funding-"our" funding-which could possibly lead to losing the funding-or control of it....and the fact that FIRE presence at the Federal level keeps getting smaller, and smaller and smaller and lost...within D.H.S. No-we didn't feel much better when a press release went out a month or so ago that stated they were going to "retain" the U.S.F.A. "initials" within the Dept of Homeland Security. Kinda like a building that says "Fire Dept" on the outside, but has little to no apparatus or firefighters inside.

The latest "episode" of the continuing saga, is the administration of the Fire ACT Grant funding which leaves us CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC. Congress agreed to support the President in his wish move the administration of it from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) to the Office for Domestic Preparedness (ODP). Under this, the FIRE grants are supposed to remain a separate appropriation within ODP and USFA is supposed to remain involved during grant administration. DHS was instructed that it is to continue the current administrative practices for the grant program and the very successful, fair and appropriate peer review process of applications remains in tact. 

This "smells" like a partial victory....but we'll see. Why do we think that? Well, originally "W" wanted to take the funding and have the States manage it. Yeah. Great idea. Let's just take California (or any state Govt) for example....let's give THEM the $$ and give THEM the freedom to manage it. Yeah. The "State" idea was dropped. Phew....It also looks like our funding of $750 million will continue into the following budget year....the last few years have provided the fire service with more $$ than we have ever seen from the Federal level. That is excellent. We have partial "knock down" ...but the fire is not under control. We'll see.

The "non-bunker gear wearing" Washington Bureaucrat who is supposed to now be in charge, stated “I believe that the Office for Domestic Preparedness will always strive to provide assistance to our Nation’s emergency response community in the most efficient and effective manner. It is also my understanding that preliminary planning between ODP and FEMA has concluded the FIRE Act should be administered as it has in the past. If I am confirmed by the Senate, I will make every effort to ensure that ODP continues to work effectively with our Nation’s emergency responders.” 

Yeah? Then have the USFA folks (our folks) continue to run it for Forrest Gump would say "One less thing" worry about. As we said-we shall see. 

The bottom line? The FIRE ACT program was designed to support and assist FD's purchase critically needed equipment and training....and it has worked. The less involvement by non-fire agencies and Washington Bureaucrats-the better it will be for the fire service-and those we serve. WHY does the fire service have to keep watching this program, it's funding, the administration of it and the overall "FIRE" presence at DHS, like a farmer protecting their sheep from those who have no business behind the sheep?

A good and long time friend of ours from the Delaware fire service, Steve Austin,  is real concerned about all this. Why is Steve important to you? Steve knows his way around Washington-as a long time fire service advocate--and me, ?? I have trouble getting around any local City Hall-and am very successful in finding the exits. Steve understands politics-I am politically deficit and if I looked hard enough, I probably qualify for some Federal grant or study on people who suffer from PDD.

(Politically Deficit Disorder....defined as a syndrome, usually diagnosed within a year of one's first fire dept promotion, characterized by a persistent pattern of impulsiveness, a short attention and/or an unusual tolerance span for stuff that makes no sense; symptoms can include hyperactivity on a computer keyboard specifically related to politicians and/or bureaucrats who talk out of all orifices who have a demonstrated loss of focus on supporting firefighters.) 

I feel better sharing that with you.

But back to Steve. Steve is usually right on target and gets things done in a calm, cool and generally politically savvy manner. When Steve expresses concerned, it's worth paying attention. Steve is concerned and recently said that "WE" Fire Service folks need to ask that OUR members of Congress, who have the duty to oversee the Department of Homeland Security, to put a vigilant “fire watch” on the grant process. The Bush Administration, who proposed this change in the first place, also should be held accountable if things go south....and we absolutely agree. It is no secret that even though we have received more Federal funding than ever before, the Bush Adminstration looks at the FIRE SERVICE as a relative...someone ya sorta have to be nice to-but hope that they "leave and go home" soon. Steve urges us to give ODP the chance to make OUR program work but, "if there is any indication that the Fire Grants are being fragmented or absorbed in to another a state and local grant program, the “fire watch” should strike a full box alarm."

By the way-in somewhat related news....the IAFF and Sen. John Kerry held a press conference on Wednesday, 9/24/03...the subject was their endorsement of Sen. Kerry as their Presidential Candidate...the race is on.

And a quick word about DRINKING:

An old story goes.......A drunken firefighter is brought before the Fire Commissioner...the Commissioner says "FIREFIGHTER JONES-YOU HAVE BEEN BROUGHT HERE FOR DRINKING" which Firefighter Jones replies......."OK Commish-LETS GET STARTED"......

One of our "dirty little secrets" in the fire service, and society as a whole (but since we haven't been picked up as a nationally syndicated columnist-yet...we'll stay on the FIRE stuff) is the disease of alcoholism. More specifically, be it the disease or the social actions of firefighters drinking where it can effect duty-we have had more than a few tragic results. Most recently, we think of the tragic death of Andie Huber-the young firefighter killed in Wyoming, in a DUI related FD response. (See The Secret List archives: D.U.I..? F.U.I..? May 27, 2003.) The fire apparatus driver was DUI with a long, known history.

So-now what? The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) decided to do something about the issue...and is calling for its thousands of members to adopt a zero-tolerance alcohol policy. The policy statement was adopted by the IAFC Board of Directors on August 14, just prior to Fire-Rescue International, the organization's annual meeting. The full policy is below and available on the IAFC Web site:

Here is our question: Is there any reason why ANY FD shouldn't adopt this policy? We can't find one. Why doesn't every national, State and local fire association do it too? This isn't just a "Chief" issue...sure, the boss establishes policy after the Martians (and a few from Uranus) who work in most city human resource departments "review" it...but why wouldn't all firefighters "get serious" about this problem. Serious about "The Brotherhood and Sisterhood" stuff?'s a chance to prove it. We are not against social stuff....just against firefighters getting killed or killing.