The Fire Service Is on the Move

The fire service is justifiably proud of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, the largest legislative service organization on Capitol Hill. With more than 380 members of Congress involved, the caucus represents the first comprehensive approach to solving the fire problem at the federal level since the publication of America Burning 15 years ago.

But what does the caucus actually do tor the fire service? The largest caucus on Capitol Hill isn’t necessarily the most effective, and tackling a problem isn’t the same as solving it. The Congressional Fire Services Caucus is only a foundation on which we have to build. The fire service should constantly ask itself, “What have we accomplished?” and “What do we still have to do?”

The clock is still ticking on the accomplishments of the 101st Congress, but the list is already impressive. Several stalled bills have been put back on track in this Congress, and many other long-standing issues in the fire service have finally been acted on. The following recap will show you how far we’ve come and where we must focus our energies in the 102nd Congress.

  • After three years of obstructions by special interest groups, the HotelMotel Fire Safety Act is about to pass the Senate without any adulterating amendments. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), founding co-chairman of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, sent a strong message to opponents of the bill during the Commerce Committee markup, saying that Congress should “respect the views of the experts—the fire safety community—on this bill.”
  • An even longer battle was recently won with the passage of H R. 293, the Fire Safe Cigarette Act of 1989, just months after Congressman Doug Walgren (D-FA) took over the chairmanship of the subcommittee with jurisdiction. Walgren orchestrated a compromise on the deadlocked bill alter hearing from the fire service that fire-safe cigarette legislation was a number one priority.
  • Olin Greene, a fire service candidate in the truest sense, was sworn in as U.S. Fire Administrator just days alter being lauded as “a man of exceptional integrity, skill, and knowledge” at Senate confirmation hearings.
  • In direct response to the con-
  • cerns of the fire service community, the House and Senate agreed to exempt halons used for firefighting purposes from far-reaching CFC restrictions in the Clean Air Act. The bill generally was considered unalterable by all but the most powerful lobbies.
  • Comprehensive oil-spill legislation was amended at the last moment to address firefighting issues raised by the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. Legislation likely will be introduced in this Congress that focuses on the fire prevention and suppression aspects of oil spills.
  • A user fee proposed in the Administration’s FY91 budget proposal for students attending the National Fire Academy was removed by the House Appropriations Committee. Members of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus sent a joint letter to the Appropriations Committee saying that
  • such a tax on safety was a ‘‘dangerous precedent.”
  • Congressman Claude Harris, chairman of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus Rural Fire Protection Task Force, amended the Farm Bill to include S40 million each year from fiscal years 1991 to 1995 for rural fire protection. Half of the money is earmarked for rural volunteer fire departments serving communities of 10,000 people or less.
  • The Fallen Firefighters’ Memorial on the campus of the National Fire
  • Academy, established in 1981, was designated by Congress as the National Fallen Firefighters’ Memorial.
  • An amendment was included in a comprehensive anticrime bill, expected to pass this year, that provides disability benefits to firefighters who are permanently and totally disabled in the line of duty.
  • The issue of the separation of the National Fire Academy from the U.S. Fire Administration received new attention with the nomination of Wallace Elmer Stickney, a former volunteer firefighter, as director of FEMA. The NFA was a major focus of Stickney’s confirmation hearing and will be resolved in the near future.
  • The broadest definition of the needs and rights of the fire service ever to be proposed at the federal level, the Benjamin Franklin Memorial Fire Service Bill of Rights, gained the support of more than 280 members of Congress within days of its introduction. Strong support in both Houses has prepared it for passage less than a year after its introduction.
  • The fire service has enjoyed the Administration’s renewed interest. President Bush and Vice President Quayle attended both major and minor fire service functions ranging from the annual National Fire and Emergency Service Dinner to local fire service events.

This is an impressive record of accomplishments for any constituency. It is especially significant for one whose presence on the federal level has been limited until very recently. Unfortunately, the list of issues left to tackle is still extensive: hazardous materials, public education, arson control, infectious disease notification, volunteer support, and firefighter training, to name a few. But while the road ahead of us is certainly longer than the road behind us, Congress should make no mistake: The fire service is on the move!




Reuniting Fire Programs

Section 7 of Public Law 93-498, the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act, states: “The Superintendent [of the National Fire Academy] shall be subject to the discretion of the Administrator [of the U.S. Fire Administration].” Yet despite the provisions of this statute, the preface of the National Fire Academy’s Report to Congress is signed not by the administrator of the U.S. Fire Administration but by the director of the Office of Training, created in 1987 as a part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and located at the NFA’s Emmitsburg campus.

FEMA’s Office of Training has not only violated the letter of the 1974 Fire Act but also slowly undermined the fundamental assumptions on which it was drafted. One such assumption is that the National Fire Academy should exist in intimate relationship with the U.S. Fire Administration. This concept is both implicit and explicit in the Fire Act. As a result of the creation of FEMA in 1983 and subsequently the Office of Training within it, what was stated by law in 1974 is effectively null and void and has provided fuel for the everpresent battle cry of the fire service for reunification of the Academy under its “lawful” place in the U.S. Fire Admin istration. At the Senate Appropriations hearing on FEMA’s 1991 budget the director of the Office of Training submitted that the National Fire Acad cmv has more in common with other FEMA training offices than it has with the U.S. Fire Administration. Nothing could have been farther from Con gress’ intentions 16 years ago when it passed the Fire Act.

“lawful” place in the U.S. Fire Administration. At the Senate Appropriations hearing on FEMA’s 1991 budget the director of the Office of Training submitted that the National Fire Academy has more in common with other FEMA training offices than it has with the U.S. Fire Administration. Nothing could have been farther from Congress’ intentions 16 years ago when it passed the Fire Act. Nevertheless, the dislocation is-t gi thorough. The National Fire Academy has been without a permanent superintendent for almost two years and FEMA is apparently in no rush to y appoint one. Under the current cir⅛ cumstances the Office of Training isft the ultimate arbiter of all fire training n| activities anyway. While this absence | of leadership has left the National Fire Academy adrift of the U.S. Fire Administration, it has kept it that much more securely in the grip of FEMA’s Office %g., of Training.

Finally, the Office of Training has taken the next logical step, which is the supervision of all fire activities. The philosophical justification for ‘ such a role is outlined in an unneces-^ sarilv lengthy document that a private management consultant prepared for the Office of Training, entitled FEMA Training Policy Document. The document’s 77 pages (which, at the total price of S300,000, cost S 3,896 each)^ are so unintelligible that it’s easy to write it off as a linguistic manual of “governmentese” for the advanced student. However, buried under the four-paragraph definitions of such abstract words as “attitude” and “knowl-» * edge” is a two-step procedure for giving the Office of Training supervision of the activities of the U.S. Fire Administration itself!

First, the Training Policy Document states that the Office of Training shall coordinate, oversee, and evalu»ate all training activities. Several pages are devoted to the definition of “training” in both the introduction and appendix, so you can rest assured that it is all-inclusive.

Second, the document notes, “Some FEMA offices conduct training activities as an integral part of their program, although the training function is not stated explicitly in the FEMA Organization and Functions Manual.” According to the FEMA Training Policy Document, the U.S. Fire Administration is such an office, and, with characteristic attention to detail, the document proceeds to list each and every U.S. Fire Administration program as one with implicit , training functions.

It’s so simple! Why didn’t FEMA think of this before?!

With this costly and simple document FEMA would effectively be in charge of all funding for fire control . programs. As it so happens, the Office of Training also caught FEMA’s Office of State and Ix>cal Programs in its net when it went casting for even bigger fish, making the likelihood of the FEMA Training Policy Document’s adoption considerably less than if it had targeted only fire programs. The ‘ other unfortunate factor from the Office of Training’s perspective is that the document was leaked before the ⅛ Office of Training could line up support for it. The result, of course, is that there is great opposition among the directors of other FEMA offices.

The final result may be a net loss for the Office of Training. In conjunction ‘ with other questions surrounding the Academy—from the resignation of its ^ top official to legislative proposals to return it to the U.S. Fire Administration—the Office of Training has created an opportune time to address de⅛ finitively the dislocation of federal fire programs. The solution rests with the ~ House and Senate Appropriations ^ Committees. The past 12 years have proven that FEMA is able to circumvent both the language and the intent of the law because it currently is in control of monies appropriated by Congress for fire programs. Reuniting

fire programs under the U.S. Fire Administration requires nothing more and nothing less than placing all fire money under the control of the U.S. fire administrator—where Congress intended it to be in the first place. Such a move would make a great part of the Office of Training’s job nonexistent.

Insofar as the FEMA Training Policy Document has brought a simmering issue to a boil, the $300,000 spent on it may at least be of some marginal value. The bottom line seems to be

that the Office of Training, as a result of FEMA’s internal action on the document, will either get much larger at its adoption or much smaller at its defeat.

The FEMA Training Policy Document is just another symptom of a larger problem: FEMA’s policy to further weaken the U.S. Fire Administration’s control of fire programs. The fire service constituency must urge their representatives in Congress to return the National Fire Academy to its rightful position under a strengthened U.S. Fire Administration