Future of Federal Involvement In Fire Service EMS Is Cloudy
With the announcement of President Reagan’s acceptance of United States Fire Administrator Gordon Vickery’s resignation, the future of federal involvement in fire service EMS seems clouded.
Several issues ago this column discussed some of the forthcoming programs of the U. S. Fire Administration and while they were not earth-shaking disclosures, they represent new ideas and programs designed to be beneficial to the entire EMS fire service community.
Now, the very future of fire service support from the Fire Administration is under question.
To fully understand what may happen, one needs to go back to the history and role of the agency. Established in 1974 as the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration—an agency of the Department of Commerce—the new administration’s mission was the coordination of federal, state, and local resources to reduce the nation’s fire loss.
Responsibility expanded: In 1978, Public Law 95-422 changed the name of the agency to the United States Fire Administration and expanded its responsibility to include coordinating federal programs to combat arson. Then in April 1979, it was transferred from Commerce to the newly created Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and given the primary responsibility to advise the FEMA director on fire prevention, suppression and hazard mitigation, and to serve as the lead federal agency responsible for impacting on the fire problem.
The Fire Administration’s mission is now listed as:
- Reduce fire losses through better fire prevention and control, and hazard mitigation;
- Supplement existing programs of fire research, training, and education, and
- Encourage new and expanded fire-related activities by state and local governments.
The goals listed are (1) achieve significant reduction in the nation’s fire-related loss of life and property, and (2) achieve significant reductions in human injuries due to fire.
If you read the responsibilities, mission and goals closely, you’ll notice that nowhere is there a mention of emergency medical services. It’s simply not included, and that may be the beginning of the problem.
EMS role once avoided: It’s no secret that prior to the arrival of Gordon Vickery on the national scene, the NFPCA had deliberately steered clear of the subject. They felt as it was not a mandated issue, it would not be addressed. In some circles this feeling still prevails.
While Vickery was not necessarily a beloved administrator, no one could question his strength. When he made fire service EMS one of his first priorities, he was strong enough to override all objections. Now that he has departed, negative feelings may again surface.
At one time these objections were so strong that USFA employees were not allowed to be instructed in CPR on agency time. The feeling prevailed that it simply wasn’t important enough.
In the past year, the Fire Administration has hung its hat on the “first responder” concept—a term which originated with fire service EMS. While broadening that application to the entire fire service is commendable and may be even necessary if the fire service is to retain an identity within the federal sphere, the role of federal support, to fire service EMS must not be overlooked.
Waiting for weakness: It’s open knowledge that within the federal government, the Fire Administration’s growing RMS role—especially in identifying the fire service as the first one to be on a scene to mitigate an emergency medical situation—is resented. A number of other federal agencies are just waiting for the Fire Administration to show signs of weakening its thus far strong stand.
Once indecision is displayed, you can be fairly confident that power plays will begin to develop. The “third service” will again resurface, as will a number of other federal programs.
The question is, should the Fire Administration continue its effort to advise and assist the EMS fire service, or should it be left to the likes of an agency simply seeking to further its own power?
Nothing is all good or all bad, yet this writer would like to believe that the Fire Administration’s policy of assistance, free of federal interference—operating more as a clearinghouse than a regulatory body—is the proper direction at this time. Granted, some type of performance standards must be maintained, but to strap a small community with a myriad of bureaucratic regulations seems to be too much.
Best to be prepared: This column may be crying wolf before one actually surfaces, yet it would be wise to be prepared. Also, it’s not an endorsement of Vickery, his departure is a closed issue and further discussion would be meaningless.
What it is meant to be is a warning that the Fire Administration may, in light of strong external or internal pressures, back down from its present position.
If you feel strongly about the Fire Administration’s role in fire service EMS, this might be the ideal time to make your feelings known to the new administrator. If the two-year effort has been worthwhile, then you must express your thoughts to Washington, D.C., before policy changes are made.
Finally, once again, your feelings are necessary if this column is to flourish. If you have problems, solutions, or strong opinions, please contact this writer at 6821 153rd N.E., Redmond, Wash. 98052. All communications will receive prompt attention.