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Contacting your elected representatives (USA)

          Your elected representatives at local, state and national levels are interested in hearing your views on legislation impacting  fire safety and fire and burn prevention.  Local issues might include building code regulations dealing with smoke detectors or fire sprinkler installation.  State issues might include fire-safe cigarette legislation or adequate funding of fire /  emergency services.  Federal issues include federal fire-safe cigarette legislation and the childrens’ sleepware safety issue.  We encourage you to contact your elected officials whenever fire or burn prevention issues come up.

For information on US Federal legislation, the Library of Congress Thomas site (http://thomas.loc.gov) always has up to the minute status of any pending legislation.  Note that this is not a 'www' address.    Canadian legislation can be tracked at the website for Canada's Parliament at www.parl.gc.ca

 Finding out who is your elected representative:

           To find the name, address and contact information of your elected officials, look in the ‘government’ section of the local phone book.  You can find contact information for Members of Congress on the internet at www.house.gov for the US House of Representatives or at www.senate.gov for the US Senate.  Your President and Vice-President can be reached at www.whitehouse.gov.    A portal to the websites of all  federal agencies is at www.firstgov.gov

Most state and some local officials can be located through the Library of Congress website at www.loc.gov/global/state.  A number of politically active organizations also provide detailed contact information for elected officials at local, state and national levels.  One such site is the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (www.capwiz.com/nra/dbq/officials or www.nra-ila.org.  From a zip code, this site can provide detailed information on any elected official down to the level of City Council.   While you are at this website, why not join the NRA and help protect the Second Amendment ? (disclaimer: personal opinion of the webmaster,)

 Communicating with your elected representative:

             You may choose to communicate your views in person, by phone, by FAX, by letter or by email.  While all methods will get your opinion  heard by your elected representative, some methods are more effective than others.  A personal appearance at the local or Washington DC office of your elected official gets the most attention, followed by a phone call.  Letters and FAX communications almost always get a written response.  Emails are important, but may or may not get a direct response.

     If you call or visit a member of Congress, you will likely talk to a staffer rather than the actual elected official. This is perfectly acceptable, as this is what the staffer does for a living.  He or she will keep the Member of Congress well informed of the opinions and wishes of the electorate. 

             In most cases, elected officials are interested in hearing only from the people that they represent.  Having people in each state writing their own Senators works a lot better than having someone write 100 letters to all the Senators.  In rare circumstances, we have contacted elected officials in other states to let them know that the particular state legislation under consideration had national implications, and was being closely watched by burn care providers across the country.   Sometimes this works, sometimes this doesn’t.  

 

 What to say:

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 Identify yourself as a constituent

 

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Identify your position in the community as it relates to the issue.  The opinion of a firefighter or burn nurse carries a lot of weight when considering legislation that impacts fire safety or burn prevention.

 

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  Be polite.  Never threaten to ‘throw the bum out of office’ if he or she doesn’t vote the way that you would like. 

 

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Mention  the specific legislation by name and number and tell the representative specifically how you would like them to vote on the issue.

 

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  Ask the representative to respond back to you in writing, and if possible, to tell you their position on the topic in question.  

 

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 After the vote, write and thank the representative for their support.

  

 Political Realities: 

             After doing this for a number of years, some of us have noted the following: 

bulletWhen you bring up a fire issue to a local or state representative, the first question asked of you will likely be ‘what does the Fire Chief think?’.  Do your homework and get the Chief on-board before you approach the elected official.

 

bulletYou might be quite passionate on the issue, but if the elected official thinks that most of their other constituents are against the idea, then he or she will vote against it.

 

bulletYou and most of the other voters might like the idea, but if the elected representative thinks it’s a bad idea, then he or she may vote against it.

 

bulletIn rare circumstances, you, all of the other voters and the elected official all agree on an issue, yet the official votes against it because another legislator called in a favor.  Remember what Mark Twain said about how laws and sausages are made.  Time to drop back and re-group. 
 

 

A FINAL THOUGHT:

    Early in the career of this webmaster, a very wise Fire Marshall once passed along a great piece of advice:  "Always keep your pet project ready, spec'ed out,  and in your back pocket in case there is a disaster"

    By this he meant that when disaster strikes, the natural response of government is to throw money at the problem.  There may also be a window of opportunity to get needed prevention legislation passed.  It is an unfortunate but true fact that many of the advances in fire and burn prevention have occurred in response to, or as a result of a tragedy or disaster.   Be ready with a well thought-out solution if the unfortunate occurs in your community. 

 

 

 

Send mail to webmaster@burnandfireprevention.org with questions or comments about this web site.
Last modified: July 11, 2004