Do you have a voice in the future of the fire service? The answer to that question will come later. But first, let me help you understand who represents the Minnesota fire service. According to the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education (MBFTE), which tracks firefighters throughout the State for funding distributions, 19,880 firefighters in Minnestoa represent 774 departments. The breakdown of the fire departments include:
16 - All Career
86 - Combination (At least one career)
363 - Paid "On-Call."
309 - All Volunteer
Collectively, the responders of these departments protect over 5.5 million residents and countless more who work, visit and travel throughout our great State. It is no easy task with most of our firefighters serving after their full-time employment and between soccer games, dance, hockey, school events, and just life. Time has become the new money for many of our firefighters, and the pandemic allowed all of us to consider what is important in the short time we have on this earth. Even with those barriers, the Minnesota fire service jumps into action as soon as the alarm sounds.
If you traveled the State, you would expect to see many of the same practices amongst fire departments, but you don't. I have yet to see two fire departments in Minnesota exactly alike. Sure the trucks and equipment look familiar, but operating them can be very different. When I walk into a fire station, I can immediately feel the culture which helps determine how they roll. Some departments place a lot of emphasis on their equipment, ensuring they are spotless and in order. Others feel getting their firefighters back home is more important than washing a truck that will likely get dirty in the next few hours anyway. Knowing we are different helps us understand the needs of the Minnesota fire service and requires insight and discussion. What is "needed" in the suburban areas may not be the same need of our rural fire departments. So how do you find consensus amongst all of our fire departments across the State?
Three associations drive the needs of the fire service (in no particular order),
1. Minnesota State Fire Department Association (MSFDA),
2. Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association (MSFCA),
3. Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters (MPFF).
The MSFDA is the oldest fire service organization representing departments in the State. Since 1873 they have advocated for change at the capital and provided quality trai ing to all firefighters. When your department becomes a member of the MSFDA, your firefighters also become a member. Today, the MSFDA represents over 80% ofState epartments in the state. Currently, the association is managing a statewide recruitment campaign funded by FEMA to improve recruitment resources for its members. Their annual training conference will be held in April.
The MSFCA (Chiefs) advocates for change, provides training, and offers resources we all benefit from. If there is a significant incident in MN and the Incident Commander needs help, the request will eventually get to the Fire Chiefs Assistance and Support Team (FAST). This group of member volunteers will kick into action, and soon help will be on the way. If you need equipment, the Emergency Management Committee has already worked to establish a statewide mutual aid compact to protect you when help is needed across the state. Membership into this association is individual but the benefits are wide spread.
The MPFF represents the career firefighters within Minnesota. Although their efforts focus on the members of their association, it frequently benefits all firefighters in the state. Each of these associations use membership dues to pay for lobbyists who work at the capital to push for change. Over the past few years, all of these associations worked together to press for statutory funding to support the MNFIRE effort to provide resource for firefighter cancer, heart, and mental health resources. Collectively belonging to these associations pay dividends to all of us. They work together on significant issues to ensure the majority of the firefighters are represented when pushing for the change. Legislators want to know that.
So how can YOU have a voice in what is going on? Please become a member of one or all of thear associations, and participate in their committees. These groups are member-driven so people like you are using some of their precious time to volunteer above and beyond their role as firefighters. Atttend regional meetings to learn what is going on in the state and let your regional representatives know what is important to you. If we all participate, we all have a voice and can make impactful changes to benefit us all. We may operate differently, but our mission is the same, so we need people to get involved. If you choose not to get involved, respectfully allow those who are engaged to make the decisions for you. As the saying goes, "Those who show up make the decisions."