We hear the same story over and over:
A fire department requests resources from the community they serve and protect. That same community sadly denies their request. The department attempts to gather feedback, and the community makes their objections heard. Too often, in the end the department makes significant compromises in order to get even someof the basic necessities.
As a country, we are finally being forced to come to terms with the reality of the state of America’s fire departments; seeing stories in the news about wheels quite literally falling off of a dilapidated fire truck, or firefighters sleeping in their cabs to avoid exposure to the mold growing in the fire station.
It is obvious that something more must be done to secure the funding and resources that local agencies need to do their jobs well and do them safely.
The problem almost every single time boils down to one thing: the bottom line… money. Before an agency can secure resources, they need to take their request to the community. They will most often ask for permission to do one of the following:
- Leverage assets to secure a loan
- Take out a bond
- Impose a tax levy or fee assessment
- Throw in the towel (just kidding… but could you blame them?)
So, what can be done about the vicious cycle of requests for funding being denied and firefighters going without much needed resources and safety equipment? Two words: Issue Advocacy.
The point of issue advocacy is to increase voter awareness on critical issues and improve election turnout. It helps to reduce the hurdles agencies have to overcome when helping their communities understand the problems they face. Critically, issue advocacy also activates voters and supporters in the months leading up to a vote to ensure maximum participation and increased likelihood of vital measures being passed.
Grassroots-funded nonprofit political organizations like Firefighters and EMS Fund support local fire departments through issue advocacy. While departments may only have the ability to focus their resources in the few weeks before the ballots are cast, our organization has the capacity to do far more. We keep motivated citizens informed on the issues affecting emergency medical responders and help to activate them when it is time to cast votes.
Far too many departments do not have the resources available to keep their communities informed of important issues. Just a few weeks ago, voters in Kansas City, MO, began responding unfavorably to the city’s strategy of adding measures to the ballot at the last minute. In fact, this article states Kansas City voters rejected another tax measure in favor of funding Pre-K programs “…because it was too much money from poor people for ill-defined benefits. A similar argument against the fire sales tax might work.”
Notwithstanding, it is important for all of us to recognize that the majority of officials do not act while harboring negative intentions. Their priorities almost always align with securing the resources that Emergency Medical Responders need, however they simply do not believe that they can successfully overcome the opposition that often comes in response to a proposal.
The fire service takes great pride in the respect they have earned from the American public. Our nation’s firefighters and paramedics are some of the very best in the world, despite having to overcome some of the greatest obstacles to simply doing their jobs. Unfortunately, the current political environment encourages representatives to quitely add measures to the ballot at the last minute. This does not reinforce a positive perception and strains the relationships departments work so hard to build with their communities. Issue advocacy organizations can help solve this problem by lowering the hurdles departments face in order to be understood and gain the support they need.
The Bigger Picture
Like other national political nonprofits, Firefighters and EMS Fund is free to work anywhere in the United States. It is common to wonder, however, why a national organization would choose to focus its efforts on passing ballot measures that benefit local Emergency Medical Responders? Why should the average citizen be concerned with the needs of responders in other areas, when their own local agencies have unmet needs too?
The answer is simple. But it requires us to step back, and take a look at the bigger picture.
All public safety agencies, regardless of size, follow the general guidelines laid out in the National Incident Management System, or NIMS, when responding to a disaster or emergency. Set forth by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), this guide is the foundational doctrine that informs the appropriate scale of coordination among agencies responding to an event. The larger the incident, the more complex the coordination of resources and personnel becomes.
The NIMS was created from the perspective that while agencies are initially formed to serve within defined borders, they have a greater responsibility to the country they call home. One agency’s preparedness level will impact another’s.
When hurricane Sandy hit, departments and officials from surrounding areas were expected to play predetermined roles in the coordinated response. While departments from other parts of the country may have been experiencing their own issues, they filled the remaining need by sending equipment and personnel to the affected area. Should a large scale disaster occur or in the event that multiple emergencies take place at the same time, 23 year old apparatuses and understaffed, overworked departments aren’t going to be able to keep up.
It is in the best interest of every American to be concerned with emergency preparedness not just in their hometown but throughout the country, because what directly affects some of us indirectly affects all of us. And the only way we will overcome the bigger challenges on the horizon is by genuine concern for, and selfless service to, each other.