AFGE National Vice President for Women and Fair Practices Jeremy Lannan was at a ceremony to honor our union’s Law Enforcement Officer of the Year in February when he learned he too was being celebrated. AFGE Firefighters Steering Committee Chair Kurt Rhodes had informed him that he was chosen as the recipient of our very first AFGE-wide Firefighter of the Year award.
“I was really surprised and didn’t know the firefighters were giving out an award, and when they said it was me, I kinda got a little teared up because I worked with them very closely for about two years as a national organizer,” NVP Lannan recounted.
AFGE’s Law Enforcement Officers Steering Committee has been giving out its LEO of the Year award every year at our annual legislative conference. Individual federal fire departments have also been awarding Firefighter of the Year honors for years. But there was never an AFGE-wide award – until now.
“The officers of the Firefighters Steering Committee wanted to make it a truly special occasion,” Rhodes said. “In the absence of a clear stand-out firefighter who served above and beyond the call of duty during the 2018 service year, the idea to include a non-firefighter (Honorary Firefighter) as the recipient was considered, and then the choice became clear.”
Before NVP Lannan was elected to his current position in August of last year, he served as a national organizer in the Membership and Organization (M&O) department where he worked with locals and councils to grow our union. In 2016, the Firefighter Steering Committee had undergone a formal restructuring and was struggling to find its voice and a way forward. Their membership numbers were declining, and they needed help locating firefighters in each local in order to better serve them.
They didn’t make much progress until the officers who had been working with federal fire departments in District 6 were approached by Lannan, who immediately recognized the problem and devised a plan to meet their needs.
With Lannan’s assistance, in conjunction with the Membership and Organization and Legislative departments, they decided to join forces with the law enforcement officers in the development of a strategic plan. Together, they developed a bold training initiative known as Organizing and Legislative Institute for both firefighters and LEOs.
For the past two years, both firefighters and LEOs have undergone training especially designed for them at AFGE Headquarters. They learn to organize and lobby. Then they return to their locals as educated leaders to train others. M&O also did targeted organizing around LEOs and firefighters at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, and other agencies. They started keeping track of firefighters by asking locals to identify job series in 1187 membership forms. These efforts led to significant increases in membership in both groups.
Identifying firefighter members at each local is important when it comes to contract negotiation because it ensures that negotiators are aware of specific issues our firefighters have. For example, firefighters have working hours that are different than other federal workers, and their job responsibilities are unique.
“We wanted to make sure that they felt like they were being represented by AFGE and their needs were being met,” Lannan explained.
This initiative, in conjunction with the mass production of training guidebooks, is finally giving our federal firefighters who are in harm’s way a voice and a way forward.
“None of this could have been accomplished without the tireless effort of Jeremy Lannan,” Rhodes said.
NVP Lannan said he is very honored to receive the award.
“I just really appreciate the opportunity of getting to work with good activists who are committed to the work and really want to make a difference, especially to make sure that AFGE represents an inclusive union, and that means including our LEOs and firefighters,” Lannan added.