My Perspective: How we worked with Firefighters and EMS Fund to Ensure Election Success in North Collier, FL

chris spencer op-ed for firefighter and ems fund 2018

My Perspective: How we worked with Firefighters and EMS Fund to Ensure Election Success in North Collier, FL

station 42 - north collier florida
Station 42 – North Collier, Florida photo credit: http://northnaplesfirefighters.org

Hello my name is Christopher Spencer and I am the President of the North Collier Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association, IAFF Local 2297

North Collier Fire District is part of Naples, FL and lies inside Collier County which encompasses 264 square miles region. The region stretches from the Gulf of Mexico east toward Immokalee, FL and is designated as an independent fire district.

The district is no different than many other cities, counties, townships, and independent districts throughout our great country. Like all the others, we also face budget cuts, and disingenuous people with preconceived agendas that want to change the way fire and EMS services are provided. These individuals arguably seek to obtain public office overseeing the fire and EMS service budgets and end up changing public policies which creates a real threat to public safety everywhere.

In North Collier, the board of fire commissioners, fire chiefs, and the firefighters are cognizant of our fiscal constraints and responsibilities entrusted to us as we utilize taxpayer dollars. We know that as a taxpayer funded entity we have limits; however, we work to maintain and strive to enhance our emergency services.

The needs of our community are diverse and the residence in North Collier have grown accustomed to receiving a quality response with well trained professional firefighters who always treat them with respect and dignity while they uphold the tenets of their profession.

Our firefighters strive to always deliver better results than expected by the public. At North Collier Fire Rescue, public safety is priority number one and firefighter safety is paramount too, as they both coexist in a symbiotic relationship.

The North Collier board of fire commissioners is a highly respected and honorable publicly elected position. We understand getting educated people elected to the North Collier Fire Rescue Board of Fire Commissioners is very important.

When any individual announces that they seek to get elected, or re-elected for a North Collier Fire District commissioner position, the firefighters offer to interview him/her, so we can gauge each candidate’s knowledge, skill set, and ideology about the fire and EMS services. We also question their insight about the needs of this ever growing community. Oddly, through the years we have found that some candidates actually refuse to be interviewed by the firefighters. Maybe because we are the people who do the work? Maybe because we are the people that show up at vehicle accidents, medical calls, house fires, drownings, HAZMAT incident, and forest fires? Maybe because we are part of an association called the International Association of Fire Fighters?

My hypothesis is based upon local historical past election cycle data that indicates that , candidates who refuse to be interviewed, harbored alternative agendas that were not rooted in emergency response services in our community. They are more geared toward lower tax rates or a dislike for the firefighters and the labor association that represents them.

Regardless of anyone’s preconceived notions or prejudices, North Collier Professional Firefighters are dedicated and committed to the profession and the community that they serve.

North Collier Professional Firefighters remain focused on saving lives and property while delivering world class, top quality service with the best trained and skilled firefighters available.

When it comes down to making sure that the North Collier Fire District management and its Board of Fire Commissioners are all on the same page to providing emergency services to the public, we all meet together monthly and discuss the issues concerns, wants, and needs of the community and employees with open and truthful dialogue .

After the candidate interview process is completed, the North Collier Professional Firefighters make their endorsements and back up their commitment through our Political Action Committee, Collier Tax Watch. This PAC fund was created to help educate the public about the candidates through the entire election cycle. That noted, the collected funds available for the candidates is limited as we all have bills and expenses that need to be paid. With limited funds on hand and working in an affluent community, where candidates seeking political office are usually financially secure and well-funded, we always seem to have our work cut out for us .

We reached out very late in the August 2018 primary election cycle to ask for some support from the Firefighters and EMS fund. Although money is the mother’s milk of politics, boots on the ground and social media are still very important in any campaign.

The Firefighters and EMS Fund helped us immediately in many different ways that were not on our radar of things we could do. We recorded a message from the president of the firefighters association and by GOTV called thousands of registered voters in our community. They also cold called people in our community to survey them with a group of questions that included their opinion on the fire referendum being presented to them to vote upon.

The information that we garnered was beneficial and even though we lost the election by 80%, we learned a lot of valuable lessons and we made new friends and allies at the Firefighters and EMS Fund. The good news out of all this was there was no cost to us to have them do this great service on behalf of firefighters and EMS services everywhere. The very best part of this exercise was the professional manner in which we were treated, by everyone at the Firefighters and EMS Fund for whom we were so grateful .

But wait, there’s more! After an 80% plus failure rate at the polls at the end of August 2018 for a tax referendum vote, we faced another election cycle in early November 2018 with absentee ballots being mailed out as early as October 5, 2018.

This election was for three North Collier Fire Commissioner seats and a majority control of the fire board. When we lost that well funded tax referendum vote in August 2018 there appeared to be a well organized and well-funded group of people who ran an opposition “vote no” campaign against the North Collier fire district .With that August victory under their belt, they became the voice of change for the current North Collier Fire board of commissioners. Their agenda to run for public office was now predicated upon the results of the August 28 election and the fact that the North Collier Fire District lost the election with an 80%+ vote no!

“Now is the time to change the current board of fire commission” was the battle cry we began to hear over and over again from the winners who defeated the ballot initiative. North Collier firefighters were now in a precarious situation with almost all of their funds spent on the failed ballot initiative. They were now thrusted into another election cycle with well funded, highly publicized, and contentious candidates looking to destroy the fire service industry in the North Collier Fire District response zone.

The November 6, 2018 Election Day was right around the corner and the dilemma of having the absentee ballots first being sent out on October 5, 2018 meant that we had to get busy finding candidates for the open seats. We also had to start a campaign for each of the three candidates and also a fourth campaign to include all of our endorsed candidates running as one ticket.

With the new election cycle so close, our firefighters never stopped working in election campaign mode. We analyzed the recent loss and even though the beating that we just received at the polls in the last election was brutal, we vowed to work harder for the new election cycle that we were almost immediately running.

The North Collier Professional Firefighters Association felt that they were upholding the tenets of their profession by proudly, and boldly, demonstrating to the public that in fact they can trust their firefighters suggestions for North Collier Fire Commissioners.

Throughout all of this I had been in contact with Nile Porter from the Firefighters and EMS Fund and assured him that even though we were brutally defeated at the polls, we were overjoyed with the support. I advised him that regardless of the last elections results, we were moving forward and we had a lot of work to do.

Then, without hesitation, Nile and the Firefighters and EMS Fund offered to help us with the next election! I was speechless for a moment as I tried to contemplate why they would want to stay working with an organization that just lost, but I was also truly humbled by the kind gesture and replied that any help would be awesome! He immediately arranged a multi-way conversation with his team members so we could discuss the situation and how, moving forward, they could and would continue to help us.

I was tasked with a few chores by the other great people on the of the other end of the phone conversation and once again the North Collier Firefighters Association was rolling once again.

Chris Spencer - North Collier Professional Firefighters

We had the phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and Facebook info all ready to go and through blind trust and faith, I worked with Nile and his team with them coming through as real superstars!

With our coffers nearly depleted, the Firefighters and EMS Fund came to our aid and helped us develop a Facebook campaign. They made phone calls that reached over 40,000 households and were very strong moral support for the North Collier Firefighters and our profession as a whole, too.

An unforeseen glitch occurred when social media giant Facebook decided to crack down on any political ads that were being posted as they were making sure there wasn’t foreign interference in our U.S. elections. This of course on the heels of 2016 election cycle. This new Facebook political ad review process would take four weeks long to decide if Facebook would even allow our ads to be posted.

We did not have 4 weeks time left in our entire campaign. Fortunately for us the Firefighters and EMS Fund provided artwork to use. Then our members posted them on their personal Facebook pages and encouraged all of our firefighters and their friends to “like” and “share.”

Nile also asked me to record a 30-second message for the robo-calling that was being provided by the Firefighters and EMS Fund, too. The results for that were very positive as I was pleasantly surprised by how many people I know called to tell me that they received my message on their phone.

With all of this help and support coming from the Firefighters and EMS Fund, I was able to stay concentrated on keeping my firefighters working at the election polls and canvassing neighborhoods too.

November 6, 2018 was election day in North Collier Florida. The sun was shining bright and hot on all of our 18 voting precincts from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. When I was finished working my 12 hours at one of the busiest voting precincts, I drove slowly to the post election party location praying, and I mean praying, that we would keep at least one seat on the board of fire commissioners.

The results came in real slow, and when I first arrived at the restaurant where everyone gathered I sat in my car eyeing all of the firefighters watching the results come in with their necks craning upwards looking at the television screens mounted at ceiling height.

I sat in my car drinking a bottle of water for a few more minutes before changing into a fresh new shirt, because the shirt I was wearing smelled like a long, hot day of work. I then gathered my thoughts and made myself presentable for all of my friends, colleagues and family. As I exited my car and walked toward the party I thought to myself how blessed I was to be in a profession that prides itself on taking care of others in need, and how fortunate I was to be able to work with the Firefighters and EMS Fund.

I also knew that with a super majority of all eligible voters in our district actually voting in this election cycle that the results today would speak volumes.

Just as I placed my hand on the door to enter the restaurant I heard a loud scream and a thunderous roar from the people in the dining room where everyone had gathered. That roar went on, and on, and on, and got louder and louder as I stepped inside. My cell phone then almost instantly started ringing, binging, singing, texting and the results were posted on the television.

All three of our endorsed candidates won seats on the North Collier Board of Fire Commissioners.

I was not so much overjoyed as I was shocked and almost bewildered by the margins in which we won each seat and I can only attest that to the help that we received from the Firefighters and EMS Fund. They were there for us in bad times and good times and their help made sure that we did not lose again.

Selfishly, I thank the Firefighters and EMS Fund for their support, brotherhood, and loyalty to our profession. But I believe wholeheartedly and honestly that their help in our election has made our community safer and more secure from radicals who want to undermine the great deeds that our country’s first responders provide.

On behalf of all of the firefighters from the North Collier Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association IAFF local 2297, and all of the taxpayers, renters, visitors, and workers, that travel through our fire district, thank you Firefighters and EMS Fund for your help.

United we stand, together we vote.

By Chris Spencer, President of the North Collier Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association, IAFF Local 2297Chris Spencer - Collier County