Despite the federal government shutdown, the argument over funding a wall along the southern border of the United States, and the persistent political commentary filling Twitter, we remain focused on the issues and challenges facing the Minnesota fire service at home. As the next legislative session kicks into gear, our legislative committee, MnFAC, and our government relations vendor will be actively working to ensure that we – the Minnesota fire service – have a voice at the state level. In many respects, our work is truly just beginning.
I had the recent opportunity to attend one of the MnFIRE training sessions. The two-hour program was incredibly valuable as we look to addressing the issues our firefighters face every day. Prior to the start of the class, my colleagues and I at Brooklyn Park fire started a discussion about health and wellness at the kitchen table. The training expanded upon and reinforced the discussion we just had while sipping a cup of coffee. We need to take better care of ourselves, each other, and the very institution we have taken an oath to serve.
It’s no secret that Minnesota ranks 45th in per-capita spending on the fire service. This statistic is much more than just a sound-bite. When we look around the state, we can clearly see the impact that the lack of funding has on one the most essential core functions of government. Fire departments lack the necessary resources (including personnel) to adequately respond to calls and continue to struggle to meet the growing demands of the communities they serve. Pull-tabs, pancake breakfasts, fish-fries, and other fundraisers are often the only major source of financial capital to fund essential services in many departments. We are learning that the hazards of the profession are far greater than just responding to call. We need additional resources to properly take care of our most valuable asset: our people.
In Pennsylvania, State Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R., Allegheny) is quoted as saying that the state is in a crisis after a 2018 published report highlighted significant problems in the state’s fire/emergency services. Dwindling numbers of volunteers and a lack of resources paint a striking similar picture to that facing many Minnesota departments. The question is truly, “how do we fix this” and who is going to take the lead?
To start, we need to be a united Minnesota fire service and committed to solving our problems together. While every community is arguably unique, we still share many of the same problems and we need to be open, honest, and transparent in telling our story – including the challenges we face. We need to find champions – elected representatives at all levels – that are willing to help the fire service in addressing the real problems that exist across the state. Many communities cannot face or fix these problems alone and need the broader support.
At some point in the future, all of us will find ourselves reflecting at the end of our fire service career. What was the impact that we made? Let 2019 be the year that we truly focus on making significant, positive changes throughout the Minnesota fire service. To find out how you can help, contact our Legislative Committee at legislative@MSFCA.org.
Note: this article appeared in the February/March issue of the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association magazine. For other articles by leading fire service professionals, join the MSFCA today! Magazine memberships are available!