Full Size Editorial Cartoon
With the new president taking command this January, two well-accomplished fire service leaders, David Paulison, Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director, and Greg Cade the United States Fire Administration (USFA) Administrator, came to the end of their careers at their respected posts.
And now, Janet Napolitano, the new Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), must find new leaders to fill the void and to provide for the continuity of the great work that David and Greg initiated.
Regardless of the routine partisan politics, history has shown that appointment of less than qualified individuals, without strong emergency management and fire service experience to lead these organizations, have not boded well; both for these organizations, and most importantly for the public they are tasked to protect.
It might be wishful thinking, but I hope that party politics can take the back seat to the individuals' qualifications for serving at the helm of these organizations. Strength of leadership, knowledge, skills, proven track record at the national level, and extensive hands-on fire service and emergency management experience must be the most important qualifications criteria for these two positions.
I believe that it is important for the Director of the FEMA to have extensive emergency management skills and have direct experience in responding to major disasters. They also must have good working knowledge of the history and inter-working of the organization that he/she will be tasked to lead.
Just as I finished writing the first draft of this article, President Obama announced his intent to nominate the Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Craig Fugate to be his FEMA Administrator. And, I was delighted to read that our President also recognizes the importance of having fire service and emergency management experience for that position.
On the nomination of Craig Fugate, President Obama said: "From his experience as a first responder to his strong leadership as Florida's Emergency Manager, Craig has what it takes to help us improve our preparedness, response and recovery efforts and I can think of no one better to lead FEMA. I'm confident that Craig is the right person for the job and will ensure that the failures of the past are never repeated".
By the same token, I believe that the next USFA Administrator must not only have strong fire service leadership skills and experience, but even more importantly, he/she must be fully aware of the organizational history, founding principles and core values, and the mission and the important role of the USFA in leading our country's fire service.
I truly agree with the USFA's claim that they are "America's fire and emergency services leaders". That indeed is their role, and the precise reason for their organizational existence.
USFA was established only 35 years ago, as a direct result of the famous 1973 American Burning report, that led to the passage of the "Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974", Public Law 93-498, on October 29, 1974.
In the 1973, America Burning report it is stated "There needs to be more emphasis on fire prevention. Fire departments, many of which confine their roles to putting out fires and rescuing its victims, need to expend more efforts to educate children on fire safety, to educate adults through residential inspections, to enforce fire prevention codes, and to see that fire safety is designed into buildings". Also stated in the 1973 report was "The commission recommends that local governments make fire prevention at least equal to suppression in the planning of fire department priorities".
The 1987, America Burning Revisited report stated "The National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control noted that fire prevention was the key to effective and efficient fire protection services". And the 2000, America Burning Recommissioned stated "ways to reduce fire losses and deaths are neither unknown nor arcane. The primary way and the goal of any effort in this area must be to prevent fires in the first place".