Fully Involved

October is the fire prevention month. In my mind, the most significant event that undoubtedly will have a direct positive impact on fire prevention and in addressing the fire problem in our country took place back at the end of August. The ceremonial...

That excerpt is quite indicative that Kelvin has done his homework well and has researched the roots of the problem, before stepping up to the plate and accepting the honor to serve as our country's fire chief. In my mind, that shows that he doesn't just want to serve a term in that office; it shows that he has his heart in it and wants to do real good.

I think that he sees that even though in general, the USFA is on the right direction; yet it still has strayed from the original path that the Congress had outlined for it. And he wants to change that. He knows quite well that having an in-depth assessment, is the very first step an organization needs to take to figure out where they are along their way in accomplishing their mission, and then to identify the course correction measures that might be required. In my mind, the excerpts from Chief Cochran's interview with the Firehouse at the FRI are indicative of just such approach.

"We need to evaluate USFA's involvement and accomplishments as related to America Burning and America Burning Revisited," he continued. "We need to develop a report card to measure our performance against these recommendations and see what we have yet to accomplish.

The initial America Burning report was issued in 1974 and focused attention on the nation's fire problem, resulting in the creation of the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Academy.

Additionally, Cochran is looking to re-evaluate life safety initiatives to determine whether the USFA is being assertive enough in the mission to save civilian lives and property. While these losses have been going down, Cochran wants to make sure every effort is being made in fire prevention and fire safety education, and the agency hasn't simply become comfortable with the pace of reductions."

I believe that developing that "report card to measure our performance" is a great first step. There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting a "report card", even if the grades might not be something to brag about. That is of course if our intent is to improve in future. That is a great assessment of our strengths and weaknesses, and an excellent tool to help us develop a good strategy to address our weaknesses.

Look at it this way. Such a "report card", would be like an annual physical check up. Fear of finding something wrong should not be a deterrent. Instead, getting a clean bill of health, or at the least finding out what the problem might be, and then take appropriate measures to address it, before it gets out of hand, should be the real motivator, right?

Here is my two cents. I believe Chief Cochran is right to ask for a "report card". And, I think to be of any value at all that "report card" must be as independent, unbiased, and truthful as possible. I think that once and for all, we need the federal government to take an independent, in-depth look at the fire problem in our country, and evaluate our performance during the past 35 years. Worst is, just like a post-incident critique, we recognize our strengths and weaknesses, and learn valuable lessons, with the hope of doing better in future, right? What do we have to lose, after all?

In my article titled "Aim Higher" last year, I further elaborated on this concept, with the hope that it could be of value in providing the essential funding and resources necessary for reviving the USFA and strengthening its position to serve at the leadership of the fire service as it was intended to. My suggestion was:

"Let's get the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), or the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to do an independent evaluation of our efforts in implementation of the "Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974", Public Law 93-498 (PL 93-498)... Such an independent "Review" can be extremely beneficial in helping an agency better accomplish its mission. Although "Reviews" by their very nature must look back over time, but their outcomes are essentially future-focused....We must strengthen the USFA, if we are indeed serious about addressing the fire problem in our country. Our professional obligation and our patriotic duty, demand that we acknowledge the true magnitude of the total cost of fire in our country. We need to provide our national Incident Commander with adequate resources to accomplish the tasks. If we are indeed serious about addressing the fire problem, then we can't afford being complacent and settle for the current insufficient funding levels for the USFA."