DALLAS, Texas -- In a highlight of Fire-Rescue International's general session Friday, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate called upon the fire service to develop a teamwork attitude toward response and capability.
Fugate said FEMA gets more credit than it deserves for both what goes right and wrong in emergency response. "FEMA is not the team, it's part of the team," he said. "You're the team."
In addition to federal cooperation, Fugate stressed that response officials need effective and strong mutual aid -- not just local and regional, but state to state.
"Our ability to share resources is one of the great strengths of this nation," he said. "Disasters don't stop, 911 doesn't stop, just because our budgets aren't healthy."
Fugate went on to promote the inclusion of the public in preparedness and response efforts. "Far too often we look at citizens as a liability in time of disaster, but the fastest response is neighbor to neighbor," he said. "We have to look at citizens as an untapped resource and make sure the public is part of the team."
Fugate also spoke of safety in the fire service.
Of the industrialized nations, Fugate wondered, "Why are we not the leader in fire safety?" He also addressed responder vehicle crashes. "They are crashes -- they're not accidents, folks.... Tell me that going to and coming from an emergency should be the most dangerous part of the job."
To elaborate on his point, Fugate repeated a favorite phrase by Alan Brunacini, fire service educator and retired chief from Phoenix, Ariz. "Don't get hit, don't hit, don't tip over, and don't scare anybody inside or outside the apparatus."
"Just think how many lives we could save," Fugate added.
In an additional highlight of Friday's general session at FRI, Campus Fire Watch publisher and Firehouse.com contributor Ed Comeau received the prestigious Excellence in Fire and Life Safety Award, sponsored by the International Code Council and given through the IAFC Fire and Life Safety section. "I was very honored to get it - I was very flatttered they even considered me for it," he said.
Also during this session, Fire Chief Magazine announced the 2009 winners of the annual "Fire Chief of the Year" awards, sponsored by Pierce Manufacturing Inc., an Oshkosh Corporation company. The recipient for the career category was Fire Chief Randy R. Bruegman of Fresno, Calif. and the volunteer recipient was Fire Chief James P. Seavey, Sr. of Cabin John Park Fire Department in Bethesda, Md.
"The top fire chiefs in the United States possess a vast array of experience and know-how as well as extraordinary dedication and we seek to honor that," said Wilson Jones, Oshkosh Corporation executive vice president. "Chief Bruegman and Chief Seavey are two outstanding individuals that reflect these qualities and who have set a high standard for leadership in the fire and emergency services community."