By: Leah Sobon
Celebrating 100 years has the California State Firefighters Association beaming with pride as they reflect on the last 100 years and prepare for the next. Not many associations, let alone individuals, obtain the esteemed title of becoming a centennial, but the CSFA does so with honor as they attribute their noteworthy journey to the members and firefighters who volunteer their time and skills to the framework of the CSFA.
Eddie Sell, Fire Chief of the City of Hemet and President of the CSFA, brings forth over 30 years of service, entrepreneurial endeavors, and a dedication to leadership, training, and education within the fire service.
What does this celebration mean to President Sell and the CSFA? “The last 100 years have brought moments of triumph and also moments of devastating sorrow. We have experienced the Great Depression, prohibition, two world wars, the Korean War, Vietnam War, the Wars in the Middle East, the Civil Rights movement, putting a man on the moon, and endured the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Throughout this amazing list of historical events, CSFA has been leading the way to serve and protect our firefighters, provide benefits, and ensure a united voice that speaks on behalf of all firefighters and support services personnel.”
Breaking Down Barriers
When it comes to growth within the CSFA, President Sell attributes many of the successes to breaking down barriers. “We didn’t have any females on committees, we didn’t have a diverse body. Since that time, I’m proud to say we represent many groups. We have two committees being chaired by female firefighters. I’m very proud of that,” says Sell. “I have the mission for it because I saw the need. I saw folks were underrepresented and that we needed to cast a wider net. We say that we’re serving the entire California fire service, so let’s do that. We will fill our ranks with people who will be truly progressive and carry the torch forward. The fire service is great at tradition, but for the sake of what? Tradition is great at parades but aside from that, and we don’t discount our history, but if we’re not discussing some of these topics these days, you’re truly behind and missing your mark.”
Building Progressive Committees
One of the CSFA’s newest committees, the next 100 years, is about looking toward innovation, and increased member engagement, alongside a focus on the CSFA’s role as the state’s all-inclusive fire service trade association. “As we transition forward, what are we looking forward to and what are the areas we want to focus on? Remaining relevant and inclusive, being the voice for the entire California fire service,” states Sell. “We must embrace our current state of affairs and focus on better membership services that include being fiscally responsible and providing the best recommendations to our members about our sustainability. We have to take a fresh look at streamlining our board of directors and thank those who are committed to serving on a volunteer basis, but ensure that those who serve are active and engaged in supporting the needs of our association. Our bylaws should reflect the current version of CSFA, and not be held back by decades of procedural practices that no longer reflect our current areas of focus.”
Winning The SAFER Grant
President Sell is pretty clear on what his role within the CSFA entails, ensuring that his time spent as their leader leaves a positive impact on the generations to come. “Leave it better than you found it. During my time, I’m taking it incredibly seriously. I’m so appreciative of the committees and the talent on them. When you look at the timelines, it’s pretty telling… Finding out what their (members) needs are. Our members wanted more mentorship training and leadership training. One of our most active committees is our training and education committee. They are tasked with helping to shape the curriculum that supplements the grant.” The CSFA just won the SAFER grant, a 2 million dollar grant that, as per the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (SAFER) was created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase or maintain the number of trained, “front line” firefighters available in their communities. Part of the CSFA’s success in winning the SAFER grant was because they talk about LEDS training (leadership, equity, Diversity, and Service).
For Sell, there is no doubt that fire service training is something that people can attend to get great leadership training, classes, and information from California’s most forward leaders. It’s an area that the CSFA really wants to focus on. Another is to make sure they are capturing the needs of the underrepresented groups such as the Tribal firefighters.
“Sometimes in the fire service, we will segregate groups… we put people into categories. My thing is to be a united voice and be able to provide representation for all of the California fire service. To stop creating silo thinking and instead, just have a trade association that everyone can gain some sort of benefit from. We all work together and need to have an understanding of all those disciplines. I want to make sure that people that felt like they weren’t hearing about their respective disciplines are now being heard. So that they can feel heard and valued. We also flip that around and educate the entire California fire service by showcasing how fire prevention touches operations. How a dispatcher is a link in the chain of first responders.”
Mentorship In The Fire Service
Representation and mentoring are topics that Sell is passionate about because he attributes a lot of his success to them. “I was a kid that benefited from mentorship and the people that saw something in me inspired me to really push through what I thought were my own limitations. I am living proof of never holding yourself back from your next goal, promotion, and that next position that you see yourself in. Be willing to be the hardest working person in the room. And part of that is learning how to adapt to overcome changes,” says Sell.
Among successes in diversity and representation, Sell is proud of the partnerships that the CSFA have made with other organizations focused on education and mentoring.
“Organizations like Firefighters ABCs come to mind. A business started by a black firefighter, one of the first black firefighters in the California bay area. He started this company called Firefighters ABCs and it’s about diversity. A tool for children of diverse backgrounds to have material on how to become a firefighter, (even having) sample tests. We started a partnership when I became President, and because of that partnership, we are now about to give kids scholarships to EMT schools. Our partnership is now expanding to different fire departments, including Hemet. These are lifelong essential tools that I’m really proud that through collaboration with other associations and organizations that the CSFA is really doing the right thing with partnerships. One of our biggest areas moving forward is an area of helping to develop a statewide apprentice program to bring leaders and legislators together – it’s one of my big goals moving forward.”
Building Future Leaders
Another partner of the CSFA is the Exploring and for Life – Explorers Program. Together they are instilling leaders of all different diverse backgrounds in an effort to show the next generation that here is a trade association you can sign up and truly be a part of. People with personal stories, with diverse backgrounds, have had to persevere. They all have interesting stories of perseverance.
“The irony is that in a time when there has been a reduced budget, we’ve been more out there and engaged than in the last ten years. We are relevant again and back on the main stage. And I know that because I’m getting emails from high levels in the fire service inviting us to sit in high-level discussions and committees. They know the CSFA is changing. We arent sitting back anymore, scratching checks to other people to run the organization for us. The small, mighty, and engaged people are driving forward to meet the needs of 12000 plus members,” states Sell.
You can learn more about the CSFA and its 100-year anniversary celebration by visiting csfa.net.