Washington, D.C. - Chief Randy R. Bruegman, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, testified before the full Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on several critical issues facing the fire service, including the future of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (FIRE Act), homeland security, hazmat placarding, communications and interoperability, staffing and the Firefighting Research and Coordination Act.
The FIRE Act
Chief Bruegman began his testimony by stressing the importance of the FIRE Act, calling it "a federal success story of which the taxpayers can be proud." However, he expressed the IAFC's significant concern over the future of the program, including the current Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposal that would move authority for the FIRE Act from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) to the Office for Domestic Preparedness. This move, Chief Bruegman warned, could effectively end the most phenomenally successful direct grant program America's fire service has ever seen.
He pointed out that while according to the Department of Homeland Security Act, the Office for Domestic Preparedness has the primary responsibility for terrorism preparedness in the United States, "the FIRE Act is not designed nor intended for the sole purpose of enhancing terrorism response. The FIRE Act is structured to assist communities to better respond to all risks and all hazards-one of which could be an act of terrorism," Chief Bruegman stated. He then asked committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for his personal commitment to keep the FIRE Act at the USFA, where it has been so successfully managed since its implementation in 2001.
A Voice in DHS, USFA
In addition to the strong testimony regarding the FIRE Act, Chief Bruegman expressed the widespread concern of the nation's entire fire service over the reduction of its role within the new structure of the Department of Homeland Security, particularly the recent elimination of the U.S. Fire Administrator position and the cancellation of a significant number of classes at the National Fire Academy. He asked the committee to "support our request for a voice in DHS that is appropriate and proportionate to the fire service contribution to homeland security," stressing that the very future of the fire service depends upon it.
Another issue of concern for the fire service is the possibility that the current placarding system for the transportation of hazardous materials may be substantially changed or reduced. Chief Bruegman addressed this critical issue, stating that "in the absence of a proven replacement system, dismantling the current placarding system would be a significant mistake that would have serious ramifications for the safety of America's communities ... Mr. Chairman, the IAFC and America's fire service must sound the alarm about this situation for the safety of all of our citizens."
Interoperability, SAFER Act
Chief Bruegman also addressed the critical issue of communications interoperability, calling it "one of the most persistent problems that plagues large-scale emergency response," as well as the lack of adequate staffing in America's fire departments because of local budget cuts and the military call up for the war in Iraq. He asked Sen. McCain and the committee to give priority to the interoperability issue and to support the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters Act (SAFER Act), which will provide crucial federal assistance to fire departments to hire additional fire fighters.
Chief Bruegman ended his testimony by thanking Sen. McCain for introducing the Firefighting Research and Coordination Act, which will help coordinate standards for new technologies and training to help prepare first responders for the challenges they face every day. Chief Bruegman applauded the senator's "realistic approach to the issues that face our community."