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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5.4. Recognize that the fire service model of risk reduction through prevention efforts has created the finest emergency services infrastructure in the world and use these professionals to further the work of FEMA through such initiatives as Project Impact.

6. The Blue Ribbon Panel urges the fire administrator to carefully consider the recommendations made by the program chairs of the National Fire Academy and Local 1983 of FEMA regarding the U.S. Fire Administration and its four program areas. It is recommended that management participate in ongoing dialog to enhance positive labor/management relations.

Recommendations About Funding And Resource Management

7. Increase USFA support (allocate resources and staffing) for new NFIRS Version 5 as follows:

7.1. Increase USFA assistance and quality assurance to new and existing NFIRS states; support would include installing and testing new systems in each state and training state coordinators as well as providing support to state and local users as they convert to Version 5.

7.2. USFA would process and quality-control incoming data, generate state reports, and compile and distribute the annual database.

7.3. Increase budget for NFIRS support at USFA by $2 million per year.

7.4. Develop periodic grants to states to upgrade computer equipment to handle the new NFIRS Version 5 and to enhance analysis capabilities at an overall funding level of $200,000 per year for the next several fiscal years to the designated state fire authority. Ten to twenty thousand dollar grants per state would upgrade all NFIRS states over a five-year period of conversion.

7.5. USFA should outsource, when appropriate, most fire data analysis activities now carried out by USFA to describe the overall U.S. fire problem (e.g. "A Profile of Fire in the United States") and any special fire analysis or fire report projects. This should be done through cooperative agreements, contracts or grants at a level of $250,000 per year.

7.6. Regulations should be introduced requiring all states to report using the NFIRS system within five years. Future participation in USFA programs would be tied to participation in the NFIRS reporting system.

7.7. The panel recommends that an additional $2 million per year be put toward state grants for the marketing, training, and creation of incentives to ensure 100% NFIRS 5 participation.

8. USFA should focus on a number of critical R&D tasks identified in Public Law 93-498, which are as important today as they were in 1974 and still have not been fully addressed. These include:

8.1. The role of USFA as a proactive leader, helping set the direction for the entire national fire safety R&D agenda, in partnership with other research organizations and major users of research.

8.2. Invest much more heavily in technology R&D programs to support the fire safety community in the areas of:

  1. Firefighter health and safety.
  2. Advanced information technologies for fire management.
  3. Advanced technologies for fire prevention and protection.
  4. Advanced firefighting technologies.
  5. Burn care and rehabilitation.

8.3. Provide leadership for the fire safety community in the transition to performance-based codes and standards. This role could include:

  1. Financial support of fire service participation in R&D activities of voluntary codes and standards committees.
  2. Provide leadership and financial support to public and private academic institutions in support of degree and continuing education programs to equip fire safety professionals for active participation in use of performance-based regulations and standards.
  3. Support of research needed to address public interest concerns/issues associated with such codes and standards.

9. USFA should make effective use of the capabilities in the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST), Department of Commerce, Consumer Product Safety Commission, and other public and private organizations for R&D aimed at advancing the state of the art of fire safety in the nation.

10. The panel recommends funding $10 million per year to carry out these R&D initiatives plus an additional $2 million for research grants to academic and other allied institutions.