The history of firefighting as a critical component of the public good is traced back to the days of Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia. Those 18th Century colonists understood the importance of training citizens to protect the lives and property of their neighbors out of public service.

At the core of public fire protection service is the priority placed on life safety over all else.

As we commemorate another Labor Day across the United States, it helps to understand these principles of public service. Since the pre-Revolution days in the 13 Colonies, the nation’s founders recognized the critical importance of unity in service to the public’s general welfare.

Today, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) represents more than 300,000 professional firefighters in more than 3,200 local unions across the United States and Canada. More than ever, the mission and the professional training of professional firefighters hinges on the power of their ability to bargain collectively.

Sometimes the politicians who run local governments lose focus as to why fire protection is a public service in the first place. They sometimes wrongly argue that dollars are more important than lives. Members of the IAFF — and the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois (AFFI) — are united in a mission that the citizens we serve are at the core of our duty as first responders.

Because professional firefighters in Illinois are united within the collective bargaining rule of our labor laws, we are able to provide the highest levels of skill and training to the people who pay our salaries. No private fire service can outperform the first response and life safety protection provided by professional firefighters organized under the IAFF and AFFI.

At a time when so many critical government decisions are guided by fact-deprived populism, this Labor Day provides us pause to understand and appreciate the public benefit of professional fire service. Illinois firefighters provide peace of mind to millions of residents who can rest knowing their families are protected by men and women trained at the highest levels of emergency response and service.

As president of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, I am honored to represent the 15,000 men and women who provide first response life safety service to Illinois’ citizens.

They do it on Labor Day. They do it every day.

Pat Devaney is president of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois.

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