Firefighters make political endorsements with the greater good in mind | Opinion

·4 min read

As unionized firefighters, we take our candidate endorsements seriously. Here’s why you should, too.

Several states out west are currently being ravaged by wildfires. However, there is another, less visible danger advancing through our communities whose spread must be contained and extinguished: Blind loyalty to party or politician no longer can be ignored. Here is what we are doing to mitigate this political hazard.

The South Florida Council of Fire Fighters (SFCFF), representing every firefighters’ labor union throughout Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. The organization is civically active and politically engaged. At almost 3,600 firefighters strong, our members are all across the political and ideological spectrum. They are Republican, Democrat, Independent and anything in-between.

This is why the organization has removed the “R” and “D” from its endorsement cards; we do not see “red” or “blue.” We see advocates. We see legislative allies. And, on occasion, we encounter an elected official who needs some continuing education on the challenges our members face. We engage all elected officials and candidates for office, irrespective of party so that they can better understand and appreciate those challenges. No one knows what it’s like to walk in our fire boots better than we do. We don’t shy away from an opportunity to tell our story; we define ourselves as an organization during our candidate screenings.

During each election cycle, we invite candidates and incumbents to seek our endorsement. Our process is extensive as we screen candidates. This is our opportunity to have candid conversations with those seeking the awesome responsibility of representing others’ interests. The screenings give our organization and candidates a chance to examine whether our priorities and interests are in line. We scrutinize the incumbent’s voting history. Above all, we uphold the mantra that no one unconditionally “gets a free pass.”

We are nonpartisan for good reason. In our profession, we know that emergencies are apolitical. Fires are apolitical. Rollover car accidents with passengers ejected are apolitical. Cancer is apolitical, indiscriminate of the lives it effects. It is firefighters’ single greatest risk. What began quietly as legislation first introduced in 2003, Cancer Coverage for firefighters in Florida, broke into a roar of bipartisan support in 2019. Through the collective efforts of our state organization, the Florida Professional Firefighters, and firefighters across Florida, we built upon decades of weeding out politicization, allowing only our message to grow. Our cancer-coverage bill passed unanimously, because legislators worked together, courageously. These men and women valued our interests in covering firefighters who got cancer on the job.

We choose the best candidates based whose views align with our interests. Isn’t that what voters should be doing, too? For a family with children, education might be a top concern. For people with preexisting medical conditions, healthcare might be their priority. For others, infrastructure or public safety might be at the top of the list. Support for candidates should be based on an alignment of interests and priorities and not on political dogma.

As firefighters, our priority is to live and work within communities that prioritize fully funding public safety. It is our job to protect people, property and the environment; to do so professionally, we require adequate staffing levels and the appropriate equipment to do our job. We prioritize introducing new resources in order to match an increased demand, such as building a new station or putting a new fire truck into service.

Our central priority focuses on promoting safety and furthering best practices in a line of work that is inherently dangerous. Our firefighters cannot respond to your emergency if they, themselves, become injured. And our priorities cannot end there, as none of that would be possible without being able to exercise our constitutional right to collectively bargain in Florida.

This is our organization. We are unionized firefighters and we take our endorsements seriously. Many of our priorities might overlap with yours. So, when you see that a candidate has received our endorsement, remember that it was earned. This election cycle, screen and endorse candidates based on your priorities and their records. Vote for the candidates that have earned your own endorsement.

John O’Brien is president of the South Florida Council of Fire Fighters.

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