Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Washington State Council of Fire Fighters Legislative Conference
January 29, 2002

Thank you, Kelly Fox and Vice President Ricky Walsh for your leadership. I’m honored to be here today.

This legislative conference, unlike the conference I addressed last year and in years past, is overshadowed by a spirit of anguish and the dull pain of an unshakeable loss. The tragedies of September 11th were the defining moment of this new century, and that grief will never be extinguished -- in our minds or in our hearts.

But from the darkness of terror rose the light of service and sacrifice. Professional firefighters from Washington state, emergency medical personnel and their families all banded together in common cause and for a common purpose.

You sponsored fundraisers for the New York widows and orphans. You dug into your pockets for that spare fifty or one-hundred dollars, money that might have meant an extra Christmas gift at home, but aware that there were children and families three thousand miles away with an empty place setting at the dinner table.

In cities and small towns around the Northwest -- from Pasco to Seattle to Blaine -- men and women sport baseball caps and T-shirts emblazoned with the letters “NYFD.” It’s an expression of solidarity and faith. It’s an expression of gratitude and love for those professional firefighters and emergency medical personnel who cast themselves in harm’s way each day for the safety and health of their fellow citizens.

Now we have an opportunity to harness our grief and re-direct it for the greater good. Those supportive T-shirts and baseball caps must translate into more than “letters on cotton,” more than a patriotic fashion for the times.

It’s for that reason that we gather today -- to complete the real work and follow through on programs and polices which safeguard and enhance the lives of our professional firefighters and emergency medical personnel.

Let me briefly focus on three items of concern to you and to your members: 1) presumptive disease coverage 2) pension portability and 3) pension governance.

I’m a believer that presumptive disease coverage for firefighters must extend beyond respiratory disease and include cancer, heart disease and infectious disease. Anyone who has studied the hard science -- of coupling the horrendous stress of your jobs with environmental exposure to toxins -- recognizes the connection between fire fighting and a variety of serious ailments. Fire fighting is hazardous enough -- the least we can do as lawmakers and as individuals with families who benefit from your service is to extend presumptive coverage to these work-related illnesses.

For that reason, my administration vigorously supports Senator Keiser’s and Representative Conway’s bill on extending presumptive disease coverage.

We also agree with the issue of pension portability for publicly employed paramedics. This will be a tougher problem to resolve, but if all of you in this room today contact your state representatives and help them understand that a portability provision in the LEOFF statute would help secure the retirement future of our emergency medical personnel, then I believe we’ll succeed.

Lastly, I believe that pension policy committees’ governance should include member representatives -- the real stakeholders with their futures rooted in the decisions of the pension board. That’s only fair.

The Washington State Council of Fire Fighters has kept the faith and done the heavy lifting for professional firefighters and their families for more than 60 years. I salute you.

I salute you for sticking your necks out to battle Initiatives 695 and 747. Thank you for your sacrifice and your labor. Those were critical fights and now our state will pay a dear price with fewer services, reduced safety and poorer roads.

Let’s hope that the impacts from those initiatives galvanize our people -- that we never lose sight of the value of investing in our communities.

The firefighters’ pledge captures everything that a public servant should aspire to: “I promise the wisdom to lead,” it reads, “the compassion to comfort and the love to serve unselfishly whenever I am called.”

What a calling to service that is. What a calling to sacrifice, what surrender to the better angels of our nature.

Thank you.
Related Links:
- Washington State Council of Fire Fighters
- Washington State Legislature
- Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33)
- Rep. Steve Conway (D-29)

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