Harold A. Schaitberger, the 9th General President in the IAFF’s more than 100-year history, was first elected in 2000. He is also a vice president of the AFL–CIO, serving on the Executive Committee, and has served on the AFL–CIO Executive Council since 2000.
During his tenure as General President, Schaitberger has demonstrated an unbending commitment to ensure the health, safety and security of IAFF members and their families. Since taking office, IAFF membership has grown 45 percent to a record 320,000. Membership has grown each year, including the 2008 recession.
From the beginning and throughout the coronavirus (COVID pandemic, Schaitberger knew that it would have a major impact on this profession and that the IAFF needed to take a leading role in making sure our members on the frontline had the resources, including personal protective equipment (PPE) and access to testing, to protect them and their families from exposure. Even before many government agencies — including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — began issuing
guidance, the IAFF pushed for the protocols needed to respond safely to COVID-19. On the legislative
front, Schaitberger made sure federal funds and subsequent stimulus packages included money for COVID-19 needs for fire and EMS and funding to state and local governments to help protect members’ jobs.
Under his leadership, he has ensured that the IAFF is always at the forefront in addressing health issues in the fire service, including cancer and behavioral health, devoting resources to preventing and treating cancer – which is scientifically proven to occur in fire fighters at higher rates than the general population – as well as push for presumptive protections. And, the IAFF is leading efforts to help members struggling with post-traumatic stress and other behavioral health issues, including opening the IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery, specifically for fire fighters.
The IAFF’s political influence has increased considerably in the years since Schaitberger was elected. The IAFF’s political action committee – FIREPAC – is in the top one-half of one percent of all federal PACs.
Through the political process, the IAFF has advocated for benefits and protections for IAFF members, developing a federal grant program – the Staffing for Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) – to hire, rehire and retain fire fighters and ensured funding for the Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE Act) grant program to provide training, equipment and other resources to fire departments across the United States.
One of the greatest challenges to face the union came soon after he took the helm – the September 11 terrorist attacks. The IAFF committed its full resources to help members and the families of the fallen, including raising and distributing more than $160 million for the families of the 343 FDNY fire fighters killed in the line of duty and worked tirelessly in the efforts to pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act establishing the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program and the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund to provide health monitoring, treatment and compensation for 9/11 responders and survivors in all 50 states.
Throughout his term in office, the IAFF has provided financial support, food, clothing, water, shelter and medical and psychological assistance through the IAFF Disaster Relief Fund to members who have suffered catastrophic losses at the hands of major disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and flooding across the U.S. and Canada.
In his first term, he formed the IAFF Financial Corporation (IAFF-FC) to provide financial services and quality insurance programs at a minimal cost to IAFF members. Today, The IAFF-FC has $5.2 billion in assets in its deferred compensation program. This success led to the creation of E-18 Media, a full-fledged media production company ready to assist IAFF affiliates with public safety and community outreach programs and other media projects.
The union’s charitable efforts have also grown considerably under Schaitberger’s administration, bringing five unique funds under one umbrella, the IAFF Foundation, which provides support and assistance to fire fighters and their families in their time of need. He also serves as a Vice President of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a national charity the IAFF has supported for more than 60 years. The single largest contributor to MDA, IAFF members have raised and donated more than $630 million since 1954.
In 2009, he was appointed by President Barack Obama to the Homeland Security Advisory Council, which includes leaders from state and local government, first responder communities, the private sector and academia. In addition, he sits on the Board of Directors for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
General President Schaitberger began his career as a professional fire fighter in Fairfax County, Virginia. He quickly rose to the rank of lieutenant, organized and served as president of Fairfax County Local 2068 and was elected president of the Virginia Professional Fire Fighters – all before he had seven years on the job. Before being elected General President, he headed the IAFF’s political and legislative operation for nearly 25 years.