Firehouse® Interview: U.S. Fire Administrator R. David Paulison

Nearing the end of his first year as head of the U.S. Fire Administration, the nation’s highest-ranking fire official reviews accomplishments and looks at what’s ahead for America’s Bravest.


R. David Paulison of Miami was appointed U.S. Fire Administrator in December 2001. As U.S. Fire Administrator, Paulison heads the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and supports state and local fire service programs as well as implementing FEMA...


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R. David Paulison of Miami was appointed U.S. Fire Administrator in December 2001. As U.S. Fire Administrator, Paulison heads the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and supports state and local fire service programs as well as implementing FEMA Director Joe M. Allbaugh's initiatives for emergency readiness, firefighter training and equipment. The mission of the USFA is to reduce life and economic losses due to fire and related emergencies through public education, training, technology and data research initiatives in coordination with other federal agencies and in partnership with fire protection and emergency service communities.

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Courtesy of USFA
U.S. Fire Administrator R. David Paulison

Before accepting this post, Paulison, who has 30 years of fire-rescue service experience, had been chief of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department since 1992. In that position, he oversaw 1,900 personnel with a $200 million operating budget and a $70 million capital budget. He also oversaw the county's emergency management office.

Paulison is no stranger to the fire service or emergency management. When accepting the position in December 2001 (post 9/11), he knew that a great challenge lay ahead, yet he explained that he was and is very optimistic. While participating in the selection process, Paulison said, he could tell that the expectations of this position would be different than ever before. "When I interviewed with FEMA Director Allbaugh, it was not business as usual," he recalled. Paulison said he saw that the chemistry was "right" and that he understood clearly that the USFA would be very involved with public policy.

The interview was conducted by Firehouse® Magazine Contributing Editor Charles Werner.

Firehouse: What are the major fire service projects that you are working on?

Paulison: First, the USFA is moving forward on the strategic plan and reorganization that was initiated by Ken Burris (Paulison's predecessor), which is a very good plan. The two largest points under the strategic plan are to reduce civilian fire deaths, especially for the age groups under 14 and over 65, and to reduce firefighter deaths.

(Equipment compatibility/interchangeability such as self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA, hydraulic rescue tools and other critical firefighting equipment is also on Paulison's to-do list.) There was a major problem during the Pentagon attack, this was a very intensive firefighting effort and it was hard keeping up with air-supply needs. Yet, when 150 air tanks were brought in, they were not usable due to equipment incompatibility. Why is it that we can buy a scuba tank from anyplace in the U.S. and it is interchangeable, but fire service SCBA is not? There is a fundamental flaw with this.

(Paulison said the USFA will be teaming up with manufacturers to develop solutions with equipment compatibility.) I am very optimistic because many of the manufacturers have come to me expressed a willingness to participate. That's a really good sign.

(Paulison also indicated that radio communications is another critical component for effective emergency response.) This will require a long-range strategy that will involve radio spectrum for public safety and a short-range strategy focused more on interoperability.

There must be a single national incident/unified command system within the United States. It is very likely that a local-incident/unified-command policy will be tied to future grant funding. We have repeatedly seen where a incident and/or unified command system can make a significant difference to an incident's outcome.

(Paulison said he adamantly supports firefighter wellness programs.) Each year, we lose approximately 100 firefighters, most of which are a result of health-related issues or vehicle accidents. It doesn't make sense to keep losing firefighters in the areas that we can fix. The fire service has ignored this long enough.

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