If Fire Fighters Ran Congress

Published: April 23, 2008

By Jim Lichtman
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There’s a new TV commercial making the rounds.  It shows a large group of fire fighters assembled in a room that looks much like the House of Representatives.

The House speaker is a fireman, and the man at the podium is a fire chief.  The speaker gavels the group to order and the chief speaks.

Alright, firefighters settle down,” the chief says.  “How about the budget?”

“Balance it!” they all shout.

“And the taxes?”

“Don’t change the list!” they say.

The chief looks around the room,“Anyone want better roads?”

“We do!” they say.

“All in favor?”



Not a sound.

When an emergency happens fire fighters have no time to equivocate, parse language or argue nuances. They’re presented with a critical situation to solve, and how do they respond – with duty, honesty, loyalty, caring, and integrity.  All universal, ethical values.

The Fire Fighters Code for the City of San Diego, California states:

“As a Fire Fighter, my fundamental duty is to protect or save lives and safeguard property in the service of my community.

“As a public employee, I will set a good example in all actions and deeds. I will never use my position for personal gain, recognizing it as a symbol of public trust.

“I will constantly strive to achieve the high objectives and ideals of this department and shall conduct myself at all times, both on and off duty, in such a manner as to reflect most favorably on the department.

“I do solemnly swear that I will support the constitution of the United States of America and the constitution of The State of California. And I will respect, honor, obey and enforce the laws and ordinances of the jurisdiction in which I serve.

“Today, I recognize the badge of my office as a symbol of public faith and I accept it as a public trust.

“And I hereby rededicate myself to the citizens and visitors of the city of San Diego to ensure their safety in the discharge of my duties.”

That’s 183 words.  183 words that the fire fighters of San Diego, and I would guess a similar code for fire fighters around the country, live by on and off duty.

Want to know the code for members of the U.S. House of Representatives?  Well to start with it’s 1,562 words, too long to print the whole thing here.

1,562 words and some of them still can’t get it right.

Can you imagine a fire fighter having lunch with a special interest group that, let’s say, wants to change the fire safety code for a building complex?  How about a fire chief who’s seen relaxing on a fishing boat in Cabo with lobbyist Jack Abramoff?

To be fair, not all members of Congress are corrupt.  In fact, most of them are hard-working, honorable people with hard-working, honorable staff.  But you can’t deny the fact that the individuals we elect to make the critical decisions for the rest of us do seem to find a way to complicate the decision-making process.  Although issues like healthcare, immigration, the economy and the war in Iraq are more complex than those faced by fire fighters, shouldn’t we expect those issues to be handled with the same integrity that fire fighters approach their job?

Maybe Congress could take a few lessons from fire fighters.  Instead of equivocating, how about telling us the clear, honest truth?  Rather than attack or criticize, how about showing more teamwork – with people you don’t agree with – to find solutions?

I’m not pretending that the issues before Congress are easy.  They’re not.  But how they work to solve those issues is clearly an area where Congress can and should improve.

“Anyone want a better Congress?”

“We do!”

“All in favor?”


“All right, we’re out of here.”


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