BY KENNETH O. BURRIS, JR.
The U.S Fire Administration’s legislative mandate is to work toward making a difference in the fire death and injury rate in the United States. Given this organizational directive, how does emergency medical service (EMS) delivery fit programmatically into the responsibilities of the USFA? That is a difficult question and one that the USFA has struggled with for a number of years.
Adhering strictly to the legislation that created the USFA, there is little indication that the USFA should be involved with EMS issues. The Department of Transportation is the federal agency with the authority and funding to address EMS issues. America Burning, the report that led to the creation of the USFA, only mentions EMS briefly. Yet, in the 25 years since the creation of the USFA, EMS has become a major portion of the services delivered by local fire departments.
Given that anomaly, the Fire Administration has at the very least a moral obligation to the fire service to be involved with EMS issues. That obligation has been fulfilled in the past through training and programmatic activities. The Fire Administration has developed materials in the areas of Grant and Alternative Funding for EMS; EMS Safety; EMS Public Information, Education, and Relations; EMS Recruitment and Retention; Emergency Vehicle Operations Safety; and Standard Operating Procedure Development. Each of these documents can be obtained at no cost through the USFA Web site at
The USFA’s National Fire Academy offers resident and off-campus EMS training opportunities to support fire service-based EMS response and public education efforts. Courses such as Management of EMS, EMS Special Operations, Advanced Leadership Issues in EMS, Basic Life Support for HAZMAT, Advanced Life Support for HAZMAT, Incident Safety Officer, Health and Safety Officer, and Incident Command Systems for EMS are offered through the USFA’s National Fire Academy. Information on these training opportunities may also be obtained from the USFA Web site.
Another initative of the USFA is the Federal Interagency Committee on Emergency Medical Services (FICEMS). On behalf of FEMA, the USFA chairs and administers FICEMS, which serves as a forum to establish and facilitate effective communications and coordination between and among federal departments and agencies involved in activities related to EMS. This committee develops among federal agencies recommendations that will (1) strengthen the communication and coordination of federal policies and programs, (2) promote harmony and avoid duplication of effort, (3) and promote uniformity of standards and policies consistent with existing federal laws and regulation regarding EMS.
Members of FICEMS include representatives from the Department of Transportation, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Agriculture, General Services Administration, and Department of Labor. Issues recently addressed by FICEMS have included the proposed creation of an EMS standard by the National Fire Protection Association, the American Society for Testing and Materials standard on ambulance design and equipment, weapons of mass destruction training for EMS first-responder personnel, and the new General Services Administration’s Federal Ambulance Design Specification.
Under the USFA’s proposed reorganization, EMS programmatic efforts will take on a new dimension with greater emphasis and importance on partnerships. Partnerships will be critical to the USFA’s EMS initiatives in the future. Within them exist the funding potential necessary to adequately address emerging issues within fire service-based EMS delivery. The USFA provides connectivity to the nation’s fire service, and we need to go about the business of leveraging that connectivity with other federal agencies for the benefit of the fire service. Herein lies the importance of our future EMS partnerships.
Our future also lies in the collection of good data. A recent conversation with Chief Jack Krakel, chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs EMS Section, underscored this need. There is not a single database in existence on which to base EMS decisions for the future. Our discussion focused around the collection of fire service EMS data much like NFIRS for fires. At the present time, there is no funding for such a program; however, other federal agencies are interested in creating such a database. This may prove to be an area for partnerships between the USFA and other federal agencies for the benefit of the fire service.
I know that those individuals in the USFA working in the EMS arena are committed to serving the nation’s fire service. Their desire is to enhance the timeliness and effectiveness of providing life-saving care to the public, to see a reduction in the number of fire service EMS responders killed in the line of duty, and to promote harmony and avoid duplication of federal efforts in EMS. These are bold goals for the USFA’s programmatic efforts-goals that will require strong partnerships, as well as leadership, to accomplish.
KENNETH O. BURRIS, JR., is the chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration. He retired as fire chief from the City of Marietta, Georgia. He has an MPA from Kennesaw State University and a bachelor’s degree in fire protection and safety engineering technology from the University of Cincinnati. He formerly served as treasurer of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.