Confirmation Hearing Held for Fire Administrator

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Former Fire Chief Ernest Mitchell Jr., the nominee for U.S. Fire Administrator, told a Senate committee Wednesday that he will rely on his experience to enhance the preparedness of the nation's fire and emergency services.

"The USFA should use data from the National Fire Data identify and target populations that meet the criteria for being the highest fire death and injury risk," he told the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Mitchell, former fire chief in Monrovia and Pasadena in California, was nominated by President Obama to replace Kelvin Cochran, who stepped down from the post last June to return to Atlanta.

"This opportunity is the fire chief's career topper -- the chance to serve my country and the fire service at the highest level," he told the Senators, adding that, "Recent catastrophic events have led to a more dynamic USFA with a revised role and responsibility."

He said the USFA has a prominent place in FEMA and DHS.

"If confirmed, I will work to improve all programs and services that enhance the fire service role of preparing for, responding to and mitigating incidents."

Mitchell also spoke of his intention to have the USFA lead the effort to prevent fires which will lead to the reduction of civilian and firefighter injuries and deaths.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a co-chair of the Congressional Fire Service Caucus, remarked: "In a report released just last week, the United States Fire Administration found that, over the past 10 years, the overall trend in fires has declined by 18 percent. During this same time period, there was also a 20 percent decline in civilian deaths and a 22 percent drop in civilian injuries. We can be proud of this progress."

She also pointed out that despite the decline, the report states that while the county's fire death rate is improving, it's still higher than more than half of the industrialized countries of the world.

"Sadly, during this same time period, there has been an average of 3,570 deaths and nearly 18,300 injuries per year," she said. "The Administrator must work tirelessly to improve these statistics, which represent loss and pain to American families."

Collins added that it's important the current and future generations of firefighters continue to get the high level of training provided by the National Fire Academy.

"I am interested in hearing the nominee's vision for the U.S. Fire Administration and how he will build upon the good work that has been done," she said.

Committee Chair Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) told Mitchell: "Chief, I'm also mindful that you've been nominated for this position at a time when the nation's fiscal difficulties have created real pressures to dramatically reduce federal funding for just about all programs.

"In this climate, USFA's ability to provide timely and accurate information in emergencies, and about our capacity to respond to them, takes on added significance."

There is no date set for the Senate to vote on the nomination.