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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19. As a starting point for revitalization, it is strongly recommended that the USFA develop a strategic plan utilizing valuable stakeholder contributions that have already been made and others which will be sought directly.

20. Effective strategic plans have to be realistic, measurable and achievable. USFA should ensure that it can meet the two goals established in FEMA's strategic plan regarding the fire programs.

21. The USFA needs to be an active partner and have a proactive role in the National Disaster & Terrorism Response effort, and that $15 million be appropriated for this effort.

Recommendations About Personnel And Human Resources Issues

22. The panel recommends that staffing levels at the NFA be established at the appropriate level, through the adoption of the budget recommendations made in this report, and in a separate study regarding NFA.

23. The panel recommends that an interested-based conflict resolution system be developed and used by these three groups during points of impasse and during all negotiations about the future concerning mission and resource allocation.

24. The panel recommends that the staff of the USFA develop a decision- making model which is well-integrated throughout the fire administration.

25. Train staff at all levels to be effective managers in skills they identify as critical to job performance (e.g. teamwork, empowerment, etc.)

Recommendations About Advocacy And Partnership

26. The panel recommends that the USFA continue outreach programs for the dissemination of information about fire problems in the United States and that it strive to ensure that all data is current and presented in user-friendly format. The USFA should utilize existing public and private resources wherever possible through partnership agreements to achieve this objective.

27. The panel urges the USFA and NFA to consider the ramifications of what it does for its institutional partners and provide increased support for "Degrees at a Distance" and other fire service college curriculum programs.

28. At all points, FEMA must inject a consciousness of the fire problem into its programs and outward into federal government policy whenever appropriate, especially in the area of health care, occupational safety and health, DOT standards, etc. Congressional liaison from FEMA to Congress must develop a feedback loop to the fire service.

29. To promote loyalty and demonstrate advocacy, the panel urges that the FEMA director sponsor an annual meeting of representative stakeholder interests regarding fire concerns and issues similar to that conducted on behalf of the emergency management community.

30. The panel recommends that FEMA/USFA develop fellowships for senior fire officers at the local level whereby they would serve under the highest levels of FEMA/USFA administrators for six months. This would strengthen the connections between FEMA/USFA to fire leaders in the field. In turn, this would begin to build a cadre of fire officers across the nation with intimate working knowledge of the federal fire programs.

31. The panel urges the creation of a federal grant/local matching programs to enable fire/EMS departments to acquire training resources, new technology, specialized equipment and safety resources.

32. Ensure when there is a major fire, large-scale explosion or similar event that warrants national media coverage that the USFA be a more visible advocate, provide commentary, provide data, interpretation and analysis in support of local fire authorities.

33. Recognize that the study of the U.S. fire problem could benefit from examining success models elsewhere and that the USFA should have a major role in brokering an international flow of information on such issues as technology development, training initiatives, and cultural aspects of fire prevention.

Recommendation About The Future

34. As a starting point for rebuilding, the panel requests that the director, Congress and the President create a commission to continue the work begun in America Burning. Due to the continuing seriousness of the U.S. fire problem, the panel suggests this body begin its work in Washington in June 1999 and complete its work in 18 months.