Subcommittee Explores the Priorities of the U.S. Fire Administration in Anticipation of Reauthorizing USFA
(Washington, DC) House Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation Chairman David Wu (D-OR) today heard from representatives of the fire service community in preparation for the upcoming reauthorization of the U.S. Fire Administration. USFA is the primary federal organization serving the needs of firefighters and promoting fire safety for citizens.
"As citizens, we place great trust in firefighter professionals to protect our lives and our homes. We believe they will respond quickly to emergencies and will have the capability to mitigate fire dangers," Chairman Wu said. "Whether it's a building in a metropolitan area or homes in the rural West threatened by wildfires, we know the efforts of USFA remain important to every citizen."
The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) was created in 1974 in response to a bleak assessment of fire safety in the United States. The report detailed the loss of nearly 12,000 citizens and 250 firefighters to fires each year. Through firefighter training, public fire-safety education and research, the USFA cut fire-related deaths in half by 1998.
USFA's current authorization will expire at the end of fiscal year 2008. The subcommittee held this hearing in advance of re-authorizing the USFA.
"The U.S. Fire Administration is an important part of keeping homes and businesses safe. Congress has a responsibility to cut the bureaucratic red-tape to ensure that the agency can continue to provide the best technology, curriculum, and consumer advocacy resources available," added Subcommittee Vice-Chairman Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ).
While the life-saving success of the USFA is commendable, the U.S. still has one of the highest rates of death, injury, and property loss due to fire among all industrialized nations. Knowing this, witnesses today outlined a number of priorities to continue to combat these losses.
Top priorities include better data collection of fire incidents, expanding training and education curriculum and the continued funding of critical research efforts.
Updating the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) is one of the fire community's most urgent priorities. Through data collection, USFA is able to analyze trends and identify areas for which more training or education is needed. Local and state emergency officials depend on the shared information to better train volunteer and career firefighters and to implement data-driven public education efforts in their communities.
The current system technology and reporting procedures are outdated, and the USFA estimates it only captures about 50 percent of fire incidents. USFA and the fire service community hopes that creating an internet-based system will speed up reporting of the data, lead to a more complete database, and therefore provide better analysis, greater fire prevention, and fewer lives lost.
Another key concern is the need to develop training and education programs on firefighting in wildland-urban interface areas. A 2006 needs assessment found that only 24 percent of fire departments could fight a fire in these areas. Knowing that thirty-eight percent of new home construction in the Western U.S. is in areas adjacent to wildlands, the National Fire Academy (NFA), housed within the USFA, already has begun to develop the curriculum.
"My home state of Oregon was one of the first states to begin reporting fire data to USFA and also is one of the highest users of USFA training programs," added Chairman Wu.
It is also through research and development that USFA prevents fire-related deaths. USFA works with other federal agencies such as the National Institute of Technology and Standards (NIST) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to promote and improve fire safety. Research efforts focus on smoke detector technology, fire retardant materials, such as in mattresses or children's sleepwear, and better protective equipment for firefighters.
To fulfill these priorities and to continue to reduce fire-related deaths, the fire service community is advocating for full funding of the U.S. Fire Administration. USFA's fiscal year 2008 authorized funding level was $68 million though it was funded at only $43 million.
Chairman Wu concluded, "The USFA has been on a trajectory of success since its establishment. It has my full support, and pledge to see that our first responders have the necessary resources to continue to do their jobs effectively."
For more information on this hearing, please visit the Committee’s website here.