By James Large
Last month at Fire-Rescue International, I gained an even greater appreciation for the scope of my most recent elected position: president of the Florida Fire Chiefs Association. To serve the fire service of my state is a great honor; to represent at the national level is a privilege. With this honor and privilege comes great responsibility. I am the face and the voice of our state association. I must represent and express views and positions that are shared and universal to the service. I discussed issues with industry leaders during FRI, and I felt a common and unified approach to facing the challenges of the current economic and political environment.
I believe one of the key opportunities for our voice is the Congressional Fire Service Caucus in Washington, D.C. It is the largest caucus in Congress, with more than 320 members. Unfortunately Florida only has seven elected members in the caucus. Many other states are underrepresented as well. I intend to increase that membership during my term as president. I hope that other states will look hard at similar initiatives. Politics always will be a big part of our industry’s successes and or failures and such partnerships are critical.
The reverse is true at our state level. In a partnership between the Florida Professional Firefighters Association and the Florida Fire Chiefs association, a Florida Fire Service Caucus has been developed. It is now in its third year and has grown to 37 elected officials. As we navigate through these challenging economic times, this could prove to be advantageous with threatening issues such as pension reform and presumption laws.
Upon returning from Denver, I attended the Florida League of Cities Conference, which re-enforced the idea of political partnerships at all levels. Here there were numerous opportunities to network with mayors, city managers and other elected officials from around our state. A fire-service presence certainly is not the norm at this conference. Yet, we are all aware of ICMA putting out documents and presentations to some League of Cities such as “Tough Questions to Ask Your Police and Fire Chief.” One such registration flyer stated that “the toughest departments to get accurate and measurable information from are the police and fire departments.”
Besides the packet appearing bias, it is clear there is a significant lack of understanding into the scope of our work. We are great at teaching and educating our own. Perhaps we should look to be a part of non-emergency service conferences as well. Do we do as good a job as we can to educate our administrative and elected bodies?
As I navigate through the first few months as president, this issue has been illuminated as one of the key building blocks to the future of our industry. While this is not a revelation, I recognize the enormity of this task and that the boundaries are so much bigger than my prior focus. We need to reach beyond our respective municipalities and districts. We need to reach beyond county lines and state borders. We need to strengthen and build more national relationships such as those between the IAFF and the IAFC. The Congressional Fire Service Caucus is one of the partnerships that need to be strengthened. It provides a forum for building relationships. It opens the door to provide counsel, education, and insight to elected decision makers. This is one of the many efforts I believe we should be making as we take the next step in advancing the fire service of our nation.
James D. Large is fire chief of St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue. He is a Florida state certified Firefighter, Emergency Medical Technician, Fire Instructor and Fire Inspector. His education includes associate’s degrees in Fire Prevention and in Fire Suppression, a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Studies and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. He holds Chief Fire Officer Designation from the Commission on Professional Credentialing as well as Certified Fire Protection Specialist from NFPA. Large currently is the president of the Florida Fire Chiefs Association.