Fama Forum | David Durstine and Lee Morris
More than 15 years ago, the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) Governmental Affairs Committee launched “Hill Day” to support the fire service in its efforts to secure federal aid to address safety equipment shortfalls in fire departments nationwide.
Held in conjunction with the Congressional Fire Services Institute’s annual fire dinner and symposium, member companies form teams to visit more than 100 congressional offices in a 48-hour period to promote full funding for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, the SAFER hiring program, the U.S. Fire Administration, and the Urban Search and Rescue system.
FAMA is consistent in its request and rationale for the need for federal funding. Our teams review with congressional staff the “10 Key Facts of the Fire Service,” the employment information of FAMA and the Fire and Emergency Manufacturers and Services Association (FEMSA) members showing the industry’s jobs contribution to the nation, and a specially prepared report on the number and size of AFG grants received in each state and congressional district over the past five years. FAMA and FEMSA track the annual funding and maintain the data on FireGrantData.com.
The overall objective is to convey to Congress that FAMA represents the industry that “helps first responders save lives.” It is an American-based industry that creates jobs across the country and supports communities in a host of ways.
In fact, many of the teams consist of members who also serve as volunteer firefighters or were former paid firefighters in their communities. After presenting members of Congress and their staff with the equipment needs and evolution of the industry, the talk often turns to what is happening “on the ground” with first responders. It’s a fascinating discussion and one that is informative and eye-opening for many on Capitol Hill.
In nearly every instance, the teams gain respect and standing because they offer themselves as a resource of information about the fire service to the congressional offices. The purpose of the meetings is to provide information that is helpful, accurate, relevant, and current. Sometimes, that’s a rare commodity on Capitol Hill.
Politics, the good kind, is a relationship business built on trust and honesty. Over the years, FAMA’s Hill Day events have almost become an institution, with staffers and members of Congress remembering previous years’ meetings and how helpful they were. For new members and staffers unfamiliar with the fire service, the teams provide a 20-minute educational tutorial, of sorts, providing needed background on the field.
In April 2021, FAMA held its first virtual Hill Day, with more than 60 Zoom meetings with key appropriations committee staff and members, along with personal congressional office virtual visits. It was, without question, a success and proved that meetings could be held throughout the year at critical times in the legislative process.
But just as a life is saved “in person,” the best Hill Day meetings are when FAMA members converge on Capitol Hill to hold face-to-face meetings. It’s the nature of the business to be present when needed.
FAMA and our Hill Day teams continue to work collaboratively with the U.S. fire service, informing and educating the members of Congress on the many challenges that first responders face. FAMA has been instrumental in driving the reauthorization of the Fire Act Grant Program as well as increased funding for the many programs on an annual basis. The members of FAMA are proud to stand alongside you, our customers, helping to ensure adequate federal support is continued to make the fire service more effective in the many roles and services you provide for your communities.
FAMA is committed to the manufacture and sale of safe, efficient emergency response vehicles and equipment. FAMA urges fire departments to evaluate the full range of safety features offered by its member companies.
FAMA Forum creative content is contributed by unpaid volunteer authors. Any opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of FAMA or its member companies.
David Durstine, vice president with IDEX Corporation’s Fire & Safety Division, the parent of FAMA member companies Akron Brass and Hale Products, grew up in the fire service and worked in the industry for more than 20 years. He is a fourth-generation firefighter with the Apple Creek (OH) Volunteer Fire Department. He also served as president and currently serves as Board of Directors secretary for FAMA and has been an active participant of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) committees on fire apparatus, including NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus; NFPA 1906, Standard for Wildland Fire Apparatus; NFPA 1912, Standard for Fire Apparatus Refurbishment; and NFPA 1911, Standard for Inspections, Maintenance, Testing and Retirement of In-Service Fire Apparatus.
Lee Morris, senior director government operations for Oshkosh Corporation, has more than 25 years of experience working in Washington, DC, having served more than a decade as Senate staff in a leadership position, a senior administration official at DHS, a nonprofit lobbyist, and more than 10 years handling government affairs at Oshkosh Corporation (parent company to Pierce Manufacturing). Collectively, this experience has afforded him an in-depth and thorough working knowledge of the federal legislative, regulatory, and interagency process. He has also long served as the FAMA Government Affairs Committee co-chairman and sits on the Congressional Fire Services Institute National Advisory Committee.