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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11. It is recommended that the USFA increase its awareness of how diversity and multi-culturalism affect the fire problem through redirecting current resources and new funding toward specific at-risk populations.

11.1. Partner with representatives of cultural/ethnic groups to seek input and understanding regarding public education effectiveness and to develop new pathways for delivery.

11.2. Develop relationships with minority-owned corporations to co-develop fire prevention campaigns designed specifically for at-risk groups.

12. The panel recommends that an additional $4 million per year be directed to expand outreach efforts on community hazard assessment and at-risk groups, including technical aid to fire departments serving populations under 2,500.

13. Create a local matching funds federal grant program designed to fund the hiring of public fire and safety educators over the next three years with a focus on states with a documented high life loss history.

14. The panel recommends that the NFA budget be increased in order to increase student capacity by 50%, to improve off-campus course delivery, and to ensure that all first responders have access to the excellent courses that have been and can be developed by the staff of the National Fire Academy through continuation of the student manual support and utilization of the resources at the Learning Resource Center (LRC).

14.1. The panel recommends that an additional 110 rooms (plus supporting facilities) be made available for resident program students of the NFA. This can be accomplished by a capital construction project or relocate EMI to another FEMA facility, thereby freeing up space at the NFA for additional students.

14.2. To increase the student capacity by 50%, an additional $2.5 million in operating funds is required for additional faculty and staff, course development and delivery costs, and increased student stipends.

14.3. Increased funding for student manual support be maintained for at least five years as the programs are handed off to the various states.

14.4. The Learning Resource Cen-ter (LRC) be staffed and open for reasonable hours (including evenings) whenever students are on campus.

14.5. The NFA shall recognize the benefits of having a diverse student population participate in their courses. Therefore, the admission process of the NFA should be strengthened to enhance the numbers of women and ethnic group members participating in the programs.

15. The academy should consider a very limited time when basic courses (i.e., arson investigation, inspection practices, basic hazmat, etc.) are taught at Emmits-burg. These should be handed off to the states, with residential courses focusing on executive-level management, advanced technology and the introduction of new ideas into the fire service.

16.State and local fire training programs are an integral component of the training and educational services of the NFA. In order to maintain and strengthen this important partnership, grants to support state fire training programs need to be improved. The grants should be in the $100,000 range per state, as follows:

  • $75,000 - To deliver NFA courses at the state level, including program materials and delivery costs.
  • $25,000 - (.5 FTE) to coordinate delivery of NFA programs at the state and local level and to provide for the management and accountability of NFA courses.

17. The panel recommends to the director that he evaluate policies affecting the Board of Visitors to ensure that it is permitted to operate as it was intended.

17.1. Funds for the BOV travel and meetings should be separate from the salary and expenses of the USFA/NFA.

17.2. The staff person assigned to work with the BOV should be a staff member from the FEMA director's office and not from USFA.

17.3. The board should be funded for a minimum of four meetings per year.

Recommendations About Planning

18. The panel recommends that planning within FEMA more substantively incorporate the goals and objectives of the fire and EMS constituencies in this country, recognizing the fire/EMS system as the primary mitigation and prevention infrastructure in service to the citizens.