U.S. Fire Administrator Kelvin Cochran

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...


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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The next thing (not in any rank order) and one of the most important things that we as the USFA must do more aggressively is to pursue more substantive efforts towards reducing LODDS (line-of-duty deaths) to firefighters. We have experienced a tremendous reduction of civilian deaths and injuries since America Burning and since the USFA was born, but the statistics relative to firefighter LODDs and injuries are essentially unchanged. That is above 100 firefighter line-of-duty deaths and over 100,000 injuries per year. We are experiencing an unusual anomaly at this point where we are just above 70 LODDs for this year. If the rate stays the same, we will fortunately fall below 100 for the first time in over seven years. Hopefully, we will be able to continue this trend for many years to come. At this time, there is no way to analyze and determine if all of our efforts for the past 20-plus years are now starting to pay off or is just an anomaly. I believe it is an anomaly because there are too many other things that we can evaluate that we know culturally are not changing.

Having said that, I am going to initiate an effort from the USFA of developing a vulnerability self-assessment tool similar to applications such as the accreditation model, but focuses on identifying risks and vulnerabilities specifically related to injuries and deaths. This then puts fire chiefs and communities in a situation where they can actually identify the local risks and develop strategic and operational plans for overcoming those risks. We don't have anything like that right now and I think that will make a difference long term to reduce LODDs and injuries.

Preparedness and response. There is an expectation that the USFA will be the nation's leader for the deployment of the American fire service in the event of a national disaster. The IAFC and other stakeholders have worked very hard to develop plans for such a deployment if it's needed toward natural or manmade disasters, but I am not convinced that we are at a point to where we understand at the local, regional, state or federal level how that deployment procedure will manifest itself and how it will unfold under the practical scenarios according to those 16 scenarios in the NRF (National Response Framework).

As Fire Administrator, I am not going to wait for a big disaster before addressing this issue. I am going to engage our fire service stakeholders in detailing the sequence of a deployment strategy for the 16 scenarios and how we will actually mobilize local fire departments to become a national asset during times of national natural or manmade disasters.

Two other things in our emergency preparedness responsibility, the Emergency Support Function (ESF) 4 function (Firefighting Annex) is primarily led by the U.S. Forest Service. I believe the USFA should play, at the very least, an equal role as a partner in leadership in ESF 4 at the federal level. I am going to evaluate the USFA's role and where necessary pursue a more formal leadership role in ESF 4. While we have large wildland fires, the vast majority of incidents in those 16 national scenarios in the NRF does not require wildland fire capability; they require capabilities that are provided through career/combination/volunteer fire services, special operations and hazmat operations that are provided by fire services. To have the U.S. Forest Service as the primary leader in ESF 4 when disasters don't call for wildland fire capabilities is out of place. We are going to assert ourselves as a leader in those scenarios where wildland fire is not the target capabilities that the fire service brings to the table.

Another very important issue is the evaluation of the impacts (not the outcomes) of the Assistance to Firefighter Grants and the SAFER Grants. We have eight years now of these grants that have tremendously benefited fire departments (career, combination and volunteer) and at this stage questions have already begun to be asked if these grants have really made a difference. From our side of the USFA and the American fire service, we really do not have a valid objective response to those questions. We know that they are making a difference, but that is not good enough. We need the proof. We have to conduct an assessment of the impacts that demonstrate statistically and scientifically that citizens and firefighters are safer. We must show whether these programs are actually reducing property loss, saving citizens' lives, reducing injuries to civilians, reducing deaths and injuries to firefighters, and increasing capabilities at the local level that ultimately increase our capabilities at the federal level for response to natural and manmade disasters. By doing this, we silence all the naysayers and critics who are not convinced that these federal dollars are being put to good use. Also, we strengthen the credibility and viability of federal grant programs for the future.

FIREHOUSE: Looking back, what would you like to say about/to the people that you have worked with and what role they played in your career?