2010 PFIG Recipient Evan Davis
College of Arts and Sciences
2012 Graduation Year
Internship: International Association of Fire Chiefs
Notes on the first week
This week has been a very exciting one; I’ve officially begun as a lobbyist. Once I arrived at the International Association of Fire Chiefs, I was immediately given an assignment and put to work. For the next few weeks it seems as though I will be working on HR 5081, which is also known as the "Broadband for First Responders Act." This bill looks to establish a broadband communications network for firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and police chiefs. Using my experience as a firefighter, my job was to call up every fire chief in roughly 80 different congressional districts and convince them to express their support for HR 5081 to their congressmen.
This was generally a very slow process as it took me several days to fully understand the issue well enough to answer questions from fire chiefs. After three days I, a two-year veteran of the fire service, was nervously trying to persuade these giants of twenty, thirty, and in one case forty years of experience. The first few calls went smoothly as the chiefs were already huge proponents of the bill. However, I hit a road block on call number four. This one chief of a large metropolitan city in Colorado, did not have the same perspective as I did. He threw increasingly complex questions at me in an attempt to prove his point. Though I was unable to answer his questions at the time, I spent hours researching and was proudly able to call him back and refute every single argument. I’m proud to say I now have a letter from him addressed to his representative in support of HR 5081.
Much like these first few calls, the conversations continued. Some were easy sells, the others were much harder fought achievements. As the days passed, I gained more and more confidence in my abilities to be able to advocate for a certain policy and lead an army of supporters. Not only was I getting a taste of what grass roots politics is all about, but I was able to fight for something I believe in. As a firefighter, I have been in situations where I lost radio contact with others. It’s quite frightening to lose your only lifeline. I think that’s why I enjoyed fighting for support for this bill; its allowing me to feel like I am really doing something to help my brother firefighters as well as the public.
That feeling of being able to do good on a larger scale is one reason why I think I am enjoying my internship so much. When I go to sleep at night, I don’t wonder whether I did right, I know it. Coincidentally, my apartment is across the street from a fire station. Whenever I hear the brave men and women of the Arlington Fire Department running to answer I call, I know I am helping them. Though I do love being the firefighter that answers calls for help, it’s very satisfying to know I am helping in a different way; I’m helping to provide those firefighters a means through which they can receive and answers radio calls.
The world of politics has proven to continue to be a very exciting one. As I have continued to coordinate our grassroots mobilization for the emergency communications bill we are working on, I’ve had a chance to see the benefits materialize. Over the past month or so, I have personally called nearly 200 of our members and have learned that nearly 60 of them mailed letters to their representatives. With copies of these letters in hand, my co-worker and I have been visiting Capitol Hill several times per week to have more in-depth conversation with the Congressmen’s staffers.
These meetings have mostly been going well as my co-worker and I have been able to demonstrate the importance of this issue. After a few weeks of these meetings, members of the Communications Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Community agreed to hold a hearing to discuss the bill. The first step to getting HR 5081 passed is about to begin!
At this hearing, the members asked several experts to testify as to the effects of giving more radio spectrum to first responders. While we faced opposition from the telecommunications industry, our witness, Deputy Chief Charles Dowd of the NYPD, held his own quite well. The effect of the letters of support I was able to generate became apparent as several members of the subcommittee whom I convinced chiefs to contact, voiced their support for HR 5081. While we were unable to convince the entire subcommittee, we did win a few allies and now have a stronger starting point.
It was nice to see the support we received, however I was a bit surprised and disappointed by the opposition. The communications technology in use by much of the fire service is decades and decades behind. Sadly, 343 firefighters died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11 due to poor communications abilities. Hurricane Katrina again showed that using WWII-era communications in the modern day doesn’t work. I thought this hearing would be the opportunity to fix that. However the price tag was too high for some Congressmen. I always knew money played a big role in the Hill, but I thought Congress could have easily seized this chance to get it right. However, we’re just taking this as motivation to work harder.
With a resume full of experience in the fire service and none in an office, I was originally very nervous about trading the gear I’ve worn on countless fire calls for a suit and a cubicle. I’ve been really happy though to see that work done in a cubicle may be even more helpful to the public than work in a fire engine. This internship has really changed my initial perceptions of public policy work. I never thought badly of it, but I never saw it on the same level as actually being the "boots-on-the-ground." I’ve seen though that without the office work, the "boots-on-the-ground" may never be there or have the tools they need. My office work has helped to grow the list of HR 5081 co-sponsors from 21 to 47. I can’t wait to see how our efforts will continue to play out. This internship has already helped shaped my goals and considerations for the future; I’m excited to see what the next few weeks will bring!
Things at the IAFC got much more exciting recently. The D-Block issue has taken off recently and I was asked to help plan an event where fire and police chiefs from across the country came to Capitol Hill to lobby legislators on the issue. After several weeks of preparations, everything came to fruition when the event went off without a hitch. Throughout the event, I was honored with being able to speak with the leaders of America's fire and police service. One of the best moments though, was when I had the luck to meet one of our biggest supporters on the issue, Senator Joe Lieberman. As one of my biggest role models, I was especially excited to spend several minutes speaking with Sen. Lieberman and hearing the advice he had for me. This day long effort was ultimately a great success as we increased the number of our co-sponsors to 68. I was very sad to leave amidst the momentum we had been creating, but I'm glad to have been able to help breathe life into such an important issue.
I am so grateful for the ability to have worked in this internship. This process has taught me much about the world of public safety policy, and has provided an invaluable look into a possible career path. One of the biggest things I took away from my experience was a greater appreciation for a post-bachelors degree. Previously, I had planned to begin working following graduation in 2012, however my experiences this summer have showed me the importance of furthering my education in order to become more effective in this field. I feel as though this experience has pushed me to challenge myself ever more in order to begin building a strong application for some type of graduate-level education.
As I have said in previous entries, my time with the IAFC has also taught me the value of the people working behind the scenes. Without the lobbyists of the IAFC, much of America's fire service would not exist in its current form. In this, I see a broader message to both myself as well as my peers. Sure working in the spotlight is glamorous, but there are other lesser known positions which are as important if not more so. Immense good can be done by those working quietly behind-the-scenes. If it were not for such unseen work, the possibility of growth for communications in the fire service would be greatly diminished.
I'm very thankful for this experience because it took a job I thought I knew, and cast it in a new light. Being a lobbyist is much more than what one sees in the movie Thank You for Smoking or what one sees on TV. Instead this experience showed me that the job entails far harder, unseen work than I ever imagined. However, this served to only pull me in even more. I was able to see first-hand that working in public policy presents opportunities to be challenged, and grow, in new ways every day. Following my graduation from UVA, I sincerely hope to be engaged in this process of continuous personal growth and opportunity to do good for my community. I urge all of my peers to consider working in public policy, and to explore just how much of a difference each and every one of us can make.