Let me be quite clear that in my mind, having extensive fire service leadership experience is an important prerequisite for the selection of the next USFA Administrator. But not the only criteria; and certainly not the most important one. I believe that having five bugles on the collar is very important, but not as important as having a proven track record of strong commitment to the founding principles of the USFA.
After all, just look around, and you could easily see that even at this day and age, there are still very many fire chiefs with archaic views, which only attests to the validity of this 1973 America Burning report statement that "Our approaches to the fire problem are not adequate to meet the needs of today. They suffer what the anthropologists call "cultural lag"; our methods of handling the fire problem are attuned to the America of yesteryear - not to contemporary needs, much less to future needs".
The method and technology to address our fire problem is not an unknown commodity. Ben Franklin stated "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". The same holds true today. The challenge for the fire service is not in what to do, but changing our culture to embrace what needs to be done. This starts at the top with the nation's fire chief.
The USFA must position itself to be the driver of this "cultural revolution" in the fire service and in our nation. Until we change our acceptance of fire in this country, provide a strong emphasis focus on prevention and not just reaction, we will continue to discuss the problem, and not solve it.
The next USFA administrator must create the dynamic by which the USFA can reengineer for the future, to create engagement from all of the national stakeholders, but as importantly, develop commitment at the citizen and firefighter level to address this problem.
Our fire problem is not a technological issue, and in most cases, an inability to respond issue. It is an issue of culture. Until we have the leadership that understands that, and can provide the leadership to begin to change our cultural acceptance of our fire problem, then we will continue to reference all the studies that tell us what we should have done.
In his excellent article titled "Warning Labels", my friend Robert Rielage quoted from the speech that the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates made to the students of the Air War College. "In it, the Secretary called for a different type of military officer. "The Armed Forces will need principled, creative, reform-minded leaders who want to do something, not be somebody," Gates said."
It would be naive of me to believe that other significant factors such as political affiliations, high connections, interest groups' influences, etc., do not have a major impact on the federal appointments at such high levels. Yet, I only hope that Secretary Napolitano would select a qualified leader that "want to do something, not be somebody" to serve as the next USFA Administrator. A leader that could step up to the plate; and serve our nation, by being proactive in addressing the fire problem. Our public that we are sworn to protect, deserves such leadership.
AZARANG (OZZIE) MIRKHAH P.E., CBO, EFO, MIFireE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is the Fire Protection Engineer for the City of Las Vegas Department of Fire & Rescue. Ozzie served on the national NFPA 13 Technical Committee for Sprinkler System Discharge Design Criteria and serves on the IAFC Fire Life Safety Section Board of Directors. He was the first recipient of the IAFC's Excellence in Fire and Life Safety Award in 2007. To read Ozzie's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. Ozzie has participated in two Radio@Firehouse podcasts: Six Days, Six Fires, 19 Children and 9 Adults Killed and Fire Marshal's Corner. You can reach Ozzie by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.