National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) Chairman and La Farge, WI, Fire Department Chief Philip C. Stittleburg testified before the House Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response. Stittleburg’s testimony focused on the Fire Corps program, which is administered on the national level by the NVFC, in conjunction with the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Fire Corps is a component of Citizen Corps, a national grassroots effort under the Department of Homeland Security to involve citizens in helping their communities prevent, prepare for, and respond to natural and man-made disasters and other emergencies.
In recent years, fire and emergency response departments have been struggling with the increasing demands of service coupled with inadequate funding. Firefighters not only respond to local fires and emergencies, but are also tasked with responding to major disasters, both natural and manmade. In an effort to help departments face these increasing demands, Fire Corps was launched in December 2004 with a mission to increase the capacity of volunteer, career, and combination fire and EMS departments through the use of community volunteers to assist in non-operational roles.
The testimony outlined Fire Corps’ many benefits, with a focus on how it has greatly increased the ability of the nation’s fire and emergency medical services to provide, maintain, and increase services to their communities. Some exemplary programs were highlighted, including the Johnson County Rural Fire District #1 Fire Corps program in Clarksville, AR, which increased fire safety programming from 100 hours per year pre-Fire Corps to averaging 8,600 hours per year today. Also noted were the Mesa (AZ) Fire Department’s Fire Corps, which donates 29,040 service hours each year, and the Stayton (OR) Fire District’s Fire Corps, which installed reflective address signs in its 104-square-mile district.
“A program like Fire Corps that stresses volunteerism and teamwork is a perfect fit in the fire service where those values are prevalent,” Stittleburg said. “Prior to the creation of Fire Corps, Citizen Corps programs did not address the needs of the fire service, leaving out this crucial component of our nation’s emergency services.”
Stittleburg concluded his testimony by calling for Congress to pass an authorization for Citizen Corps that would include a sub-authorization for Fire Corps. Citizen Corps was created by the administration and has been funded through appropriations, but has never been authorized. The NVFC believes that a sub-authorization for Fire Corps will allow it to retain its unique characteristics linking Citizen Corps efforts to the fire service.