If you were to take in some leisurely reading of the Constitution and Bylaws of the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association you would find that under “Article Two - Mission Statement” it reads “It is the mission of the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association to a) Establish an environment and provide opportunities for emergency service and related
professionals to network. b) Provide political advocacy and leadership. c) Provide emergency service related information and educational opportunities to and for the membership.”
As I reflect on this mission which serves as the foundation of our organizations existence, I don’t believe that the intent of those who established it was to prioritize these initiatives in terms of “first, second, and third”, but rather that they sought to ensure that these core functions of our Association worked synergistically to provide a well-rounded, strategic, and unified voice for Wisconsin’s fire and emergency services leadership. Perhaps that is why they chose to use letters (a,b,c) as opposed to numbers when they crafted this guiding document. With that, my President’s Message this month centers on the portion of our mission which calls for our organization to “Provide political advocacy and leadership” with particular focus on the extremely crucial political advocacy component.
As I pondered the topic further, I found myself reflecting on a conversation I was involved in with a new and slightly naïve fire chief a little more than a decade ago. I remember this new chief sharing his opinion that “a fire chief shouldn’t be political, they should just focus on being a fire chief!” After voicing his thoughts, I distinctly remember the somewhat smug smirk on the face of an experienced and well-respected chief who was also party to this discussion. It was almost as if his facial gesture was saying “you’ll learn soon”. It probably would have been more appropriate for him to simply say “you’re an idiot and you’ve got a lot to learn”.
I share this story because the naïve chief I spoke of was me, and the seasoned chief bearing the smug smirk was, and continues to be a trusted confidant and mentor of mine (I’ll exclude the name to protect the innocent). Looking back on this exchange with a
smirk of my own, I realize how absolutely ridiculous this thought was. I look at the various roles and duties that accompany the title of fire chief in agencies across our great state, and I can rattle off a laundry-list of words which come to mind; administrator,
diplomat, commander, visionary, proponent, strategist. So are we talking about running a fire department or political advocacy? The answer is a resounding “yes” to both!
As I look at the outstanding, dedicated, and humble leaders that I have the honor of serving as President of the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association, I see a pool of selfless community servants with an incredible amount of potential. Potential to not only continue to provide exemplary leadership to their “home departments”, but to provide the type of strategic direction and influence on decisions being made today that will impact the ability of our departments to deliver the critical services that our communities entrust us to provide. However, to maximize this potential we must not only acknowledge, but embrace our roles not as politicians, but rather as steadfast political advocates for the best interests of our communities and the fire and emergency services departments and personnel sworn to protect them. As I previously alluded to, our impact on the present, but most importantly the future of Wisconsin’s fire and emergency services lies in our hands. The strength, unity, and state-wide representation of our political advocacy will have a tremendous bearing on the condition in which we “leave” our agencies for those who will serve long after we’re gone, and the subsequent safety and quality of life within our communities and Wisconsin.
As I deliver this “call to arms” to the best and brightest leaders that Wisconsin’s fire and emergency services has to offer, I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to recognize the longstanding and pivotal service that Town of Madison Fire Chief David Bloom has provided to our Association throughout his more than 20 year tenure serving in the role of WSFCA Legislative Liaison. Please join me in congratulating Chief Bloom, as he has announced that he will be retiring from this role with the WSFCA in 2020. Dave has been the compass of our legislative efforts over the course of his service, and has
facilitated and orchestrated countless legislative victories for our Association and departments throughout this time. While his retirement will leave us with some big shoes to fill, we’re fortunate in the fact that he leaves us in a good position to continue his tireless efforts, and that he shared his knowledge of these processes with numerous others along the way to set the stage for future success. On behalf of the entire WSFCA, we cannot thank you enough for the positive impact you’ve had on public safety in Wisconsin!
As we close this long chapter of WSFCA’s political advocacy guidance under the leadership of Chief Bloom, and prepare to write the next, I would pose the question “do you want to be a product of your environment, or do you want your environment to be a product of you?” As progressive leaders and advocates for the safety of our firefighters and communities, we cannot sit silently and allow others to dictate how we will fulfill this
fundamental function for those we serve. Our voice must be heard from Madison to Minoqua, and Ellsworth to Egg Harbor! The volume of our potential impact lies not in the size of the communities we serve, but rather the strength and unity of our voice. Fellow chiefs, we simply cannot shy away from our duty to politically advocate for the safety of those we swore to serve despite our unfamiliarity or discomfort in doing so.
This “call to arms” which I previously referred to is just that, a fight for those we lead and protect. Much like the first time we donned an SCBA to enter a structure fire, extricated a patient from a mangled vehicle, or worked a cardiac arrest patient, we were likely not 100% “comfortable”. But just as we did in those situations, we must dig deep into ourselves demonstrating courage in the face of discomfort and adversity to do what is right for those who depend on us. Join me in contacting legislators, providing input on bills, or testifying in Madison as we pave the way for the future well-being and success of our Association, departments, personnel, and communities through political advocacy in their best interests. Let’s make the “environment” a product of us.
Timothy A. Bantes, Fire Chief
Grand Chute F.D.
2550 W Grand Chute Blvd
Grand Chute, WI 54913
Phone: (920) 380-2999