The "Blue Ribbon Panel" Working To Renew The USFA

FEMA Director James Lee Witt assembled top fire officials with the goal of reviewing the state of federal fire programs. Here are their 34 recommendations, with an introduction by Steve Austin, chairman of the panel.

Conventional wisdom being what it is, getting 13 of the country's fire service groups to agree on anything, let alone a blueprint to fix the United States Fire Administration would be as unwieldy as herding cats. However, conventional wisdom has been wrong for quite a while when it comes to fire...

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The Blue Ribbon Panel is positive proof that the professional associations that represent fire service people are working together to make a difference. Next time you hear someone go negative, tell them you know better.

Recommendations About Mission

1. The panel endorses the mission statements of both FEMA and the USFA regarding their sensitivity to the nation's fire problem, but suggests that the National Fire Academy develop a mission statement that more accurately describes the importance of its training and educational activities for the fire service and the resulting benefits for the public.

1.1. FEMA, USFA and NFA should revisit their mission statements regularly to ensure that each is responding to the fire problems to the best of their capabilities and that the concerns of their fire service and allied professional constituents remain prominent.

2. Demonstrate the importance of fire safety by renaming FEMA the Fire and Emergency Management Agency.

2.1. Use the occasion of the name change to demonstrate loyalty and commitment to the fire service community and promote fire issues to the public.

Recommendation About Organizational Structure

3. The panel recommends that the reporting relationships between the United States fire administrator, the deputy fire administrator and the superintendent of the National Fire Academy be redefined so that these working relationships can be improved in terms of empowerment, delegation of authority, and accountability.

3.1. Determine if the current system of the superintendent and the deputy administrator both reporting directly to the fire administrator is one which best encourages the flow of information toward positive and productive outcomes.

3.2. USFA should demonstrate a willingness and eagerness to reconfigure reporting relationships if they are not understood or not working efficiently.

Recommendations About Leadership and Management

4. The current United States Fire Administration does not have the confidence of the fire and emergency services. The panel recommends that the FEMA director and/or the fire administrator take the following actions:

4.1. Demonstrate a higher and sustained level of understanding about fire and emergency services issues through an advocacy at the federal level of those challenges facing fire and EMS managers through vigorous justification of USFA program goals and objectives.

4.2. Increase visibility at emergencies where a federal response is necessary to demonstrate that fire and EMS personnel are America's first responders to all hazards and as such deserve the same interest and funding that FEMA has shown to the emergency management sector.

4.3. Relocate the office of the USFA administration, including staff, to the Washington headquarters of FEMA in order to be a constant advocate of fire issues, especially during budget and resource negotiations. The panel suggests, however, that the staff of the National Fire Academy remain in Emmitsburg.

4.4. FEMA must develop a job description for the U.S. fire administrator which lists the qualities and attributes of an effective administrator, including performance objectives and standards. It is strongly encouraged that these attributes include demonstrated professional ability in fire and rescue disciplines.

5. The leadership and organizational culture of FEMA must change by altering its views of fire and EMS issues in order to make programmatic changes which reflect the real impact of fire related hazards and emergencies (in terms of deaths, injuries and impact on the American economy) which greatly exceed those associated with large-scale natural disasters.

5.1. Include USFA administrator in decisions of all FEMA's directorates as USFA fire and EMS customers represent those who are first responders in the field to FEMA's initiatives.

5.2. Create opportunities for interaction between the federal, state and local emergency managers and fire service managers to coordinate activities regarding risk identification and mitigation efforts.

5.3. Partner with the fire service in supporting changes on the level of those directed toward the emergency managers: make FIRE a part of FEMA through increasing the role of the USFA in FEMA.