Commission Findings Supported In Magnuson-Patman Bill
A joint bill to establish a United States fire administration and a national academy has been introduced in both houses of Congress. The bill, sponsored by Senator Warren G. Magnuson (D-Wash.) and Representative Wright Patman (D-Texas), would also enact other recommendations made by the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control in its final report to President Nixon.
Entitled the “Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1973,” the bill was announced at a press conference we attended at the National Democratic Club in Washington last May 7. In the Senate the bill is S.1769 and in the House, it is H.7681. While in Washington, we also got a copy of the omnibus fire research and training bill of 1973 and 10 separate bills in the same vein introduced in the House of Representatives by a cluster of congressmen. It seems that, at last, fire suppression and prevention are getting some legislative attention. It also seems that everybody is trying, belatedly, we might add, to get into the act.
The omnibus bill, much more limited in scope, was introduced by Representative John W. Davis (D-Ga.) on March 14, 1973, and was referred to the Committee on Science and Astronautics—which should give you a hint on how much influence the fire service would have if it became law. The other 10 (separate) bills which were introduced by Representative Les Aspin (D-Wis.) and co-sponsored by 65 other representatives) is typical of the fragmented attention that the fire problem has always received in Washington. The bills are not worthy of attention and we doubt if they ever will get passed, or even considered.
We are, of course, wholly in favor of the fire prevention and control bill of 1973. For one reason, it is based on the recommendations of the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control. (Let’s not forget that the fire service has a vested interest in this commission. It was the fire service—almost alone—that pushed and prodded Congress into passing the Fire Research and Safety Act of 1968, Title II of which established the commission.) For another reason, the fire prevention and control bill of 1973 establishes a United States fire administration within the Department of Housing and Urban Development which will administer the act. The fire problem is mainly an urban problem and we feel that HUD is quite the proper department to tackle it. On top of this, the bill provides for state participation by a “state fire agency,” anticipating that different states will have different problems.
The omnibus fire research and training bill, while similar in aims and somewhat parallel in details to the fire prevention and control bill, is limited in scope and heavily weighted in favor of research and training (somewhat cloudily spelled out). Not unexpectedly, the bill turns the fire problem completely over to the National Bureau of Standards of the Department of Commerce. The fire research and control bill, incidentally, does provide for research, much of it logically allotted to the Bureau of Standards.
Fire groups lend support
At the press conference, W.H. McClennan, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters (and chairman of the national commission) no doubt stated the feelings of the entire fire service when he said, “Initially I thought that the administration of the act should be placed within the Justice Department, but I changed my mind and am now convinced that HUD is the proper place. The last place I want to see it go is into the Bureau of Standards,” he added emphatically.
Also at the conference, Senator Magnuson, a long-time advocate of public protection in such areas as product safety and flammable fabrics, saw “this bill as closing one of the last gaps in public protection.” Magnuson also said that he was sponsoring the fire prevention and control bill because “it represented two years of study and deliberation on the part of the national commission—people for whom I have the greatest respect—as opposed to the hasty considerations of others who want to get into the act.”
Senator Magnuson, it may be noted, also has a vested interest in the recommendations of the national commission. Back in 1967 he was one of the sponsors of the Fire Research and Safety Act that established the commission.
Representative Patman was unable to attend the press conference but made his feelings known in a letter to Richard E. Bland, chairman of the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control. Patman wrote that “Certainly I will be pleased to introduce the Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1973 (in the 93rd Congress) which, in my opinion, would properly implement the recommendations of the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control.”
Two other major fire service groups represented at the conference were the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the National Fire Protection Association. Chief Larry Kenney of Miami, president of the IAFC, expressed approval and support for the bill by his organization, as did Charles S. Morgan, president of the NFPA. Morgan said that he was “particularly impressed by the attention and scope given to the job of fire prevention in the bill.”
What the act covers
The fire prevention and control act of bill of 1973 has as its purpose “to establish a United States fire administration and a national fire academy in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to assist state and local governments in reducing the incidence of death, personal injury and property damage from fire, to increase the effectiveness and coordination of fire prevention and control agencies at all levels of government, and for other purposes.” The bill is divided into seven titles as follows:
Title I – United States Fire Administration: This title establishes within the Department of Housing and Urban Development, under the general authority of the Secretary, a United States fire administration. “The administration shall be composed of an administrator and a deputy administrator, both appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, and four assistant administrators.” Naturally the administrator will be the executive head of the agency, exercise all administrative powers including the appointment and supervision of personnel. Each assistant administrator will head up the national fire academy, national fire data system, research and development, and the state and local program assistance. (There is no provision for the latter in the omnibus fire research and training bill of 1973.)
In general, the fire administration will exercise the functions in the areas established for the bill’s purpose (above). It will have the responsibility for surveying the entire fire problem, evaluate progress and recommend actions to improve and strengthen fire prevention and control where needed. The evaluation of costs is included here to provide a reasonable basis for resource allocation.
The fire administration will also act to coordinate studies of fire protection methods, cooperate with and render technical, informational and financial assistance to other federal agencies, states, local governments and private organizations on matters of fire prevention and control— especially in training, public education and fire safety design. In addition, the fire administration is authorized to enter into contracts with federal, state and local governmental agencies and private organizations and individuals.
Title II – National Fire Academy: The bill establishes a national fire academy under the general authority of the administrator. The academy will facilitate specialized training for fire protection agencies, assist state and local jurisdictions in planning and implementing their fire protection programs and encourage them in all their fire prevention efforts.
Getting down to specifics, we find that the academy will “promote and encourage eligible individuals to pursue careers as administrators of fire service organizations at all levels; and provide specialized courses for fire service officers and officer candidates.” It will also assist states and local governments in the development of training programs for firemen, develop model programs and curricula, including fire service extension programs, and promote and assist universities, community colleges and other institutions in their programs and projects concerning fire administration.
An important function assigned to the academy is to develop courses to educate practicing architects, engineers and designers in the basics of fire safety. All these and many other related functions come under the jurisdiction of the academy, including the authorization to enter into contracts with federal, state and local government agencies that will assist it in carrying out its responsibilities.
The bill also calls for the academy to establish a national fire academy advisory board which it may consult before taking any action. The board is to be appointed by the administration and shall consist of nine members, one of whom shall be designated as chairman.
Physical premises and facilities for the academy shall be provided by the fire administration but no location is designated in the bill.
Title III – National Fire Data System: Under this title there will be established a national fire data system that will provide help to place solutions to the fire problem on a firmer foundation of scientific data and to provide data for a continuing review and analysis of the fire problem. This would include identification of emerging problems, measurement of the effectiveness of current programs and new programs, guidance for allocation of resources and for direction in both operational and research programs.
The national fire data system is designed to collect in one place all data deemed useful by the administration. This would include death and injury statistics relating to fire fighters and others, property loss information, information concerning causes, locations and numbers of fires and other appropriate data. The data may be incorporated into a standard data-processing and information retrieval system for all data collected pursuant to the act. As with the other titles, the system is authorized to utilize the cooperation and information from other agencies, federal and local, and to create a network of uniform state fire data systems that would eliminate duplication of efforts. Tins information would be available to everyone in governmental and private agencies.
Title IV – Research and Development: It is the purpose of this title to provide for and encourage research and development to improve fire prevention and control and to develop new methods and technology for them. To do this, the fire administration will have to evaluate the total area of fire research needs in the federal, state, local government and private sectors. It will then act as a source of information as to the research being conducted everywhere by developing and maintaining a bibliography on fire research references. The duty of coordinating, sponsoring, granting funds and making continuing studies on research also falls within the functions of the system. All areas of fire suppression and prevention are covered by this duty, including research into human behavior involving fire—with special attention to the arsonist—and public education in fire prevention. All grants for research shall be awarded on “the basis of an assessment and evaluation by the administration of the contribution the grants may make in achieving a significant reduction in personal injuries and the loss of life and property from fire.”
Title V – Grants for State and Local Program Assistance: This title, which is divided into two parts, gets down to what the fire service has really been looking for for a long while—help. Part A of this title is labeled “Planning Grants,” and has as its purpose the encouragement of states and units of general government to prepare and adopt master plans for fire protection based on their evaluation of state and local problems of fire prevention and control. Planning grants will be made to states for the establishment and operation of state fire prevention and control planning agencies (called “state fire agencies” in this title.) The state fire agency shall be “created or designated” by the chief executive of the state and shall be subject to his jurisdiction.
In general, the agency will have the functions of the federal administration, but to a lesser degree and with heavy stress placed on local problems. One duty that it will be charged with is to establish “a comprehensive state-wide master plan for fire fire protection for the improvement of fire prevention and control throughout the state.” At least 80 percent of all federal funds granted to such agency for any fiscal year will be available to units of general local government or combinations of such units for their participation in the state master plan. In the allocation of these funds, the state fire agency shall assure that major cities and counties receive sufficient funds to develop their own master plan.
Federal grants authorized under this Part A shall not exceed 90 percent of the money needed for the establishment of the state fire agency. The fire administration shall allocate $20,000 to each of the states (for planning).
Part B of Title V, labeled “Grants for Fire Prevention and Control Purposes,” authorizes the fire administration to provide money to states having state master plans for fire protection. The funds will be allotted to almost anything having to do with the fire problem, including the development, demonstration, evaluation, implementation and improvement of methods, devices, facilities and equipment designed to improve and strengthen fire prevention and control and reduce the incidence of fire. Recruitment of fire prevention and control personnel, public education to the dangers of fire, and the purchase of personal protective equipment for fire service personnel are also covered in this part.
Grants for Part B may be up to 75 percent of the cost of the program. Effective July 1, 1974, at least 40 percent of the cost of any program or project shall be of money “appropriated in the aggregate, by state or individual units of government for the purpose of the shared funding of such programs or projects.” This part also refers to the salaries of personnel in that “not more than one third of any grant made under this section may be expended for the compensation of personnel.”
Our readers should note that “any state desiring to participate in the grant program under this part shall establish a state fire agency . . . and shall within 12 months after approval of a planning grant under Part A submit to the fire administration a comprehensive state master plan for fire protection . . .” There are 11 points required to be covered in the master plan, plus other details that are too numerous to be covered here. (Fire Engineering will publish them in the July issue, along with a plan actually prepared by the City of Mountain View, Calif.) In states that fail to file a master plan (within six months after the approval of the fire prevention and control bill), the fire administration may make grants to units of general local government or combination of such units—under special provisions.
Allocation of funds
The funds appropriated for each fiscal year to make grants under this part shall be allocated as follows:
Eighty-five percent among the states according to their respective populations for grants to state fire agencies.
Fifteen percent, plus any additional funds made available, may at the discretion of the administration, be allocated among the states or units of general local government .. . “according to the criteria and on the terms and conditions the administration determines consistent with this act.”
Title VI – Functions of Certain Other Federal Agencies: This title defines the function of the Secretary of Commerce with regard to fire research and safety programs. In it, the Secretary is authorized to “conduct directly, or through contracts, research into the physical and chemical phenomena of fire, including but not limited to phenomena of and test methods concerning ignition, fire growth, fire spread, smoke, toxic gases, flame inhibition, and flame retardancy; research into standards of fire safety for materials and of fire safety for construction; and research for the purpose of developing a sound body of scientific and engineering theory concerning fire.”
Other investigations and research assigned to the Department of Commerce involve the determining of the causes, frequency and severity of fires, research into these causes and the development of improved methods for fire prevention and control. This support or background information for research provided by the Department of Commerce takes in the fire information reference services and projects that demonstrate the application of fire safety principles in materials and in construction.
To accomplish these objectives, the Secretary may arrange with and reimbuse the heads of other federal departments and agencies for the performance of any such functions. And to carry out these functions, the bill authorizes the appropriation of $3 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1974 and for the succeeding fiscal years, such sums as Congress might authorize.
Burn centers planned
Under Section 602(a) of the bill, the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare “shall establish within the National Institutes of Health a program to augment their current sponsorship of research on burns and burn treatment.”
The details of this section call for 25 additional burn centers and the training support of specialists to staff them. General hospitals will be encouraged to establish burn programs properly staffed. Research is also called for, notably research to administer and support a systematic program concerning smoke inhalation injuries. The bill authorizes $2.5 million for the purposes of this section.
Home fire protection
Section 603(a) states that the Federal Insurance Administration shall establish (with the fire administration) a program to provide low-cost insured loans to homeowners and businessmen for the purpose of installing fire protection equipment—mainly early warning fire detection, or automatic extinguishing systems. An appropriation of $2 million is stipulated to provide the loans.
Title VII – Administrative Provisions: This title authorizes the fire administration after appropriate consultation with representatives of the states and units of general local governments, to establish such rules, regulations and procedures as are necessary to the exercise of its functions and are consistent with the stated purpose of the bill. These rules are spelled out in great detail, but we feel that it is not necessary to give them here.
Finally, we come to money. To carry out this bill (with the exception of Title VI, already mentioned), there is authorized to be appropriated the sums of $5 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1974, $50 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1975, and $128 million for the fiscal year ending June 20, 1976. Succeeding fiscal years call for such sums as the Congress might authorize.
Support the bill
As we mentioned earlier, we are heartily in favor of the fire prevention and control bill of 1973. It represents the research, thought and opinion developed in two years of deliberation by a commission of 20 members. It is complete, comprehensive and to the point, and far superior to the other bills submitted. It is also realistic in its call for funding. Compared to it, the omnibus fire research and training bill of 1973 seems skimpy, ill-conceived and hastily prepared. The funding that it provides—$1 million for everything—can only be called absurd.
The 10 bills submitted by Representative Aspin are somewhat of a hodge-podge, and while submitted we are sure with honest intent, could never do the job that the national commission calls for.
So it is up to all of us to see that the national fire prevention and control bill of 1973 gets passed by Congress, gets funded (a tough process) and gets on the track. Keep informed (Fire Engineering will help), follow the bill through its devious paths, and holler when you don’t think things are going right.