Kevin O’Connor explains why it is critical to make your voice heard in the election season.

Next month, voters across the country will elect our 45th president. The decision on which candidate or party you support is very personal and should be predicated upon one’s personal values and view of government. 

Firefighters and paramedics are a diverse group. Career or volunteer, union or management, we are all committed to public service and keeping our communities safe. Beyond that common thread, America’s Bravest run the gamut of political philosophies. Whether we are Democrats, Independents, Libertarians or Republicans, firefighters are patriotic and proud Americans.

Our values and priorities have been shaped by our own individual experiences and lifestyles. The fire service is not a homogenous group.

This column is not to extol or demonize either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. There are millions of pundits, prognosticators and private citizens already enthusiastically engaged in that task. My goal is to encourage firefighters, when choosing a candidate, to evaluate the candidate’s record and view of the fire service, period. Voters look at a candidate’s veracity, résumé and record, economic, tax and foreign policies, as well as issues like abortion, gun rights and other so-called “wedge issues.” But do America’s firefighters analyze or even consider whether a candidate would be good or bad for the industry or its members? 

Beyond and including the presidential race, there are 34 Senate races, 435 House races, 12 governors races, thousands of state legislative contests and too many municipal and local races to count. Each of these races shares one thing in common: They all can—and many WILL—impact the fire service. We all have skin in the game!

Will our next president consider the fire service to be strictly a local responsibility and begin curtailing our vital grant programs? Conversely, will their priorities include providing the necessary funding to build out our communications infrastructure; support basic training in fire, rescue, hazmat and EMS activities; champion safety and health programs; and fully fund our USAR teams, SAFER and AFG and make investments in upgrading wildland/WUI capabilities?

Members of Congress need to be asked many of these same questions: Will they support enhancements to our Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) programs? Will they resource and support our federal firefighters or will they try to cut staffing and diminish salary and benefits for these vital public safety employees?

As an individual firefighter, you may not have the opportunity to ask these tough questions directly. But to be an informed voter, you need to have the answers. As a volunteer, union member or chief officer, you should demand that your national organizations provide those answers, whether through questionnaires, compiling voting records or direct meetings, from incumbents or new candidates.

If you are a career firefighter, your election calculus should include where a candidate stands on your collective bargaining rights, protecting your pension and whether they loathe unions and believe in employment-at-will or right to work. The answers to those questions directly impact your lives and livelihoods

In state and local elections, the stakes are even higher. These are the elected officials who determine your budgets, write laws to provide or deny workers’ compensation or presumption benefits, determine allocations for state aid to local jurisdictions, and establish policy and protocols governing training, operational and response standards. For paid firefighters, these politicos approve or vote against your contracts, civil service protection and decide whether to fund your pension and healthcare benefits.

At this level of government, YOU can and should engage your local elected officials and ask tough questions. Politicians respond to pressure. The more that they are quizzed, badgered and asked about fire service issues, the more responsive they become.

As firefighters, we go into every emergency situation prepared and equipped. As voters, we should do no less.

Our founding fathers graced each of us with a franchise. No one should ever tell you how to vote. But you have an obligation to be an informed fire service voter. Before you vote, reflect upon whether a candidate, any candidate, is a friend or foe of America’s Bravest.

I want to thank Firehouse Magazine and so many readers who offered words of encouragement and support as I recently battled prostate cancer. I am now cancer free and fully recovered. Early detection works!