NVFC Voter Registration and Grassroots Political Action
In many towns and villages across the country, the volunteer fire department is the center of the community. Volunteer fire and EMS personnel are incredibly civic-minded, donating their time and effort and putting their lives at risk to keep their friends, neighbors and property safe.
For better or worse, many volunteer emergency service departments are fiercely independent with the attitude that they will get the job done to the best of their ability with whatever resources they have. Some volunteer emergency service departments view elected officials merely as individuals with the potential to interfere with the way that the department operates. While this concern is not unreasonable, it should not preclude volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel from attempting to form relationships and even partnerships with their elected officials.
Elected officials need the valuable insight of the volunteer fire and emergency services to guide them in making decisions that affect public safety. They also benefit politically from being able to claim fire and emergency medical service support. And the fire and emergency services are far better off if elected officials are educated and sensitive to our concerns.
Here are some actions you can take to get the voice of your fire and/or EMS department and the emergency services heard by elected officials.
REGISTER TO VOTE
Participating in the political process starts with registering to vote and going to the polls on a regular basis. Check the state voter registration links below to find the office in your state that you need to contact in order to register to vote. Most states allow you to register online.
GET ACTIVE POLITICALLY
Some other ways that you and your department can become more politically active include:
- Regularly attend official municipal or county meetings to give updates on the needs and accomplishments of your department. If policy makers don’t know who we are, what we do, and what we need, we can’t expect them to make informed, educated decisions about matters that affect us.
- Invite your elected officials to the fire house to show them what you do. This is a great opportunity for them to publicly interact with their constituents and for you to educate them on what you do and what you need.
- Develop relationships with elected officials and their staff. Having a relationship with an elected official doesn’t mean you will get what you want all of the time, but it does go a long way toward ensuring that your voice will be heard and considered. At the local and sometimes even state level it is fairly easy to develop a relationship with your elected officials. When dealing with the offices of U.S. Senators and Representatives, don’t feel slighted if most of your interactions end up going through staff. Elected officials trust their staff to listen to constituent concerns, research them, and make recommendations for action.
- Follow NVFC Dispatch newsletter and your state association newsletters to monitor items of interest to you nationally and in your state. When you feel strongly about an issue, call or write your elected official to let them know how you feel.
- Develop a media strategy for your department that includes a two-way dynamic with the media. Submit a press release or write a letter to the editor expressing your views to local media outlets. Designate one or two primary people in the department who will answer media inquiries and provide quotes. This could be the chief, but more importantly, it should be people knowledgeable about the department’s stance on key issues who can provide a consistent message and are interested in interacting with the press on a regular basis.
- Use NVFC resources to make your case. On the NVFC website at www.nvfc.org, you can access an updated copy of the NVFC legislative report; Cost Savings Calculator, which allows you to determine how much money your volunteer department saves taxpayers in your community; state benefits guide, which outlines by state the different laws in place to support the volunteer fire and emergency services; NVFC Guide to Grassroots Political Activism, a 23-page tutorial that will teach you everything you need to know about how to be effective in communicating with elected officials; and many other tools that can be incorporated into a discussion about the needs of your department.
- Work with other volunteer and community-based groups. Building coalitions with other like-minded groups can make your voice stronger. During a dispute over the status of volunteer personnel in Montgomery County, MD, volunteers there took their case to neighborhood associations. After being informed about the skill, training, and commitment of the volunteer personnel, not to mention the cost savings the community derived, the associations became very outspoken in their preference for preserving volunteer staffing. Creating coalitions brings benefits beyond enhanced political influence. Educating charitable foundations and other organizations on the activities of the volunteer fire and emergency services can result in new donations and more people interested in volunteering.