Most aspiring firefighters do not realize they are embarking on a career that may require a great deal of political action. When your paychecks are coming from taxpayers, you can be assured that at some point your salaries and benefits will come under attack, and your department will find itself in a political battle to maintain both its services to the community and the benefit packages you receive.
It is incredibly important to be aware of your particular political environment and get involved in your community and its politics throughout your career.
This is why your department’s “approval” ratings are important to maintain and uphold at all times. You can accomplish this by always providing outstanding customer service and going above and beyond your job description.
Being politically aware is also important. This means knowing who's who in your city or district and being in tune with the political and fiscal environment of the community that you serve. These things are constantly changing and can take drastic turns for the worse in the blink of an eye.
At some point politicking will be a part of your life as a firefighter. I am a firm believer that it is what you and your fellow firefighters do during good political and fiscal times that helps your organization better weather the bad times.
See yourself as a representative and politician of your organization at all times. Members of the public might see firefighters lounging at the coffee shop for extended periods of time or otherwise indulging in behavior that makes them question firefighters' value to the community versus the value of their tax dollars. It can plant a seed that may grow into something ugly when times get tough and legislators look at your department's finances and operating costs.
When political issues do arise, having the community's respect and a solid understanding of the political environment is important. When you find your department in a political fight for survival, this can prevent your organization from being blindsided by a political action that threatens your department’s budget.
You may think that this is the fire chief's job, but it is actually the responsibility of every single member of your organization. You do not have to be chief to be politically involved, and often the most junior members of your department have the most to lose or gain from budget cuts and other political issues.
When your department does come under attack, get out there on the campaign trail and be involved. None of us got into this profession to be politicians, but such political battles are inevitable. I challenge you to find a career firefighter who has worked 30 years without having to fight for his or her staffing, salary or even job.
Whether it is by knocking on doors, holding public forums or conducting other political outreach programs to educate the people in power and the voters on the issues that affect their tax dollars and your benefits packages, you cannot be passive or sit back and hope for the best.
Not everyone is good at or comfortable with public speaking. But everyone has something to offer, even if that something is to cover shifts for other firefighters who are good politicians on your department’s behalf.
When you become a firefighter, you become a politician who is always in office. You should shake hands, smile and metaphorically kiss babies each and every day to help your organization overall image with the public.
Never take the people who support you for granted, and never forget the importance of your department's overall approval and customer service rating. You have an influence on this rating every day you’re on the job and with every individual with whom you interact in uniform or while otherwise representing your department and your profession.