Kelvin Cochran was appointed administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) on Aug. 27, 2009. Cochran has 28 years of experience in preventing and responding to fires and emergencies, including firefighting, EMS, hazardous materials, public...
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Now more than ever before, we must rely on the fire and passion that we have on the inside of us for what we do for a living as firefighters and focus on the faith and optimism we have toward the future. "Things are going to get better." We have to begin to celebrate the good things going on daily and be grateful for the things that we have. We must be inspiring and encouraging as leaders to keep everyone fully engaged so that when things do get better, the celebration will be even greater.
FIREHOUSE: Tell what it was like when you were asked to serve as the new U.S. Fire Administrator.
COCHRAN:I was filled with mixed emotions and a lot of uncertainty because at that point, 18 months into my service in Atlanta, I felt this tremendous sense of obligation to stick it out. I felt that I would be letting the City of Atlanta, the mayor, Shirley Franklin, and the men and women of Atlanta Fire Rescue down if I would just spend 18 months there and be off again. I had said before that opportunity even came along when people asked me if I was there seeking other opportunities, no, that I am here for the long haul and the last thing that the Atlanta Fire Rescue needs now is a vacancy in the fire chief's position and to go through another long period where the department has an interim fire chief.
My words had convicted me and I was wholeheartedly committed to hanging in there with the City of Atlanta and had every intention of saying no and turning the USFA position down. But, based on my faith, I had to pray and talk to my wife again. I also talked to community leaders in the City of Atlanta whom I respected a lot. The response from those persons was consistently the same — "there is no way you can turn this down." They would say, "Your feelings toward the City of Atlanta and sticking it through are quite honorable, but you cannot pass this up and everybody will understand." I said yes. Everything worked out and here I am today.
FIREHOUSE: As the U.S. Fire Administrator, what are your vision and main goals during this administration and how can we as a fire service assist?
COCHRAN: I would like to quote something that our FEMA Administrator, Craig Fugate, who is very inclusive and passionate about the role of the American fire service, said at the IAFC Conference in Dallas. Administrator Fugate said that he wants me to put the "fire" back in the United States Fire Administration. Administrator Fugate wants to see the USFA play a more assertive/aggressive role in taking the lead for national-level issues that affect the national fire service. I share that philosophy wholeheartedly. I just did not come up with the words to describe it as passionately as Administrator Fugate has.
First, we have to focus on why the USFA was established in the first place, which was to address the fire problem in the United States. There is a document that we talk about quite often, America Burning, and a recap on progress called America Burning Revisited. I think one of the first initiatives to commit to as U.S. Fire Administrator is to evaluate the performance of the USFA towards pursuing the recommendations set forth in America Burning and America Burning Revisited. Once we identify our successes, we should report it nationally to all of our stakeholders and identify areas where we have not been assertive or aggressive enough. Then revise or create new programs to demonstrate the level of assertiveness/aggressiveness necessary to reduce property loss, to reduce loss of civilian lives and injuries to civilians.
We need to be more focused on high-risk groups, children below the age of 5, adults above the age of 50 and minority communities that are low income, on the bottom end of the socioeconomic scale. There are some communities that fit that description, but do not have the resources for fire prevention and life safety programs. We as the federal government should provide non-competitive grants to those communities and those fire departments that have a focus on fire prevention and life safety that further reduce deaths and property losses in those communities. I also believe that the USFA should play a more assertive role with our fire service stakeholders who are pursuing legislation and codes for residential sprinklers; even though it has been done in some areas, it is a tough fight. In many other areas, we should partner with homeowner and homebuilder associations where we can find meaningful ways to move residential sprinklers legislation and installation to more of a reality.