House Approves Measure to Reauthorize the U.S. Fire Administration

On April 3, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the U.S. Fire Administration Reauthorization Act of 2008, a bill to continue the federal government’s support for the nation’s fire service.

H.R. 4847 extends the USFA reauthorization by four years and authorizes the agency to focus its resources on important issues facing firefighters today, such as fires in the wildland-urban interface and hazardous material incidents.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ), House Committee on Science and Technology Research and Science Education Subcommittee vice chairman, with the co-sponsorship of Subcommittee Ranking Member Phil Gingrey (R-GA) and was approved unanimously by the committee in February.

"Since Congress created USFA in the early 1970s, the agency has done an excellent job in providing leadership and assistance to the nation's fire service," Mitchell said. "This bill will ensure that USFA continues to provide leadership and resources to the more than 30,000 local fire departments as their communities call on them to take increasingly larger roles in disaster preparedness and response."

The number of fatalities in the United States due to fire has decreased significantly since the early 1970s, however U.S. fire deaths and property losses are still among the highest in the industrial world, committee members stated. "This bill also recognizes the fact that over 100 firefighters lose their lives each year in the line of duty and it directs USFA to promote the adoption of voluntary national consensus standards for firefighter health and safety among fire departments around the country," Mitchell added.

USFA is housed within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The agency represents the needs and interests of the nation’s fire service at the federal level.

Among its activities, USFA runs the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md., which offers advanced training to the nation's fire service. The Fire Academy makes much of this curriculum available as widely as possible, using the internet and working with state fire academies. USFA also develops fire education and awareness programs for the public, particularly focusing on vulnerable populations like children and the elderly.

The legislation:

  • Extends the authorization to FY 2012, and authorizes funding for USFA to fully carryout their mission.
  • Authorizes the Fire Administration to offer training on firefighting in the wildland-urban interface, response coordination to multiple large-scale events, hazardous material incidents and advanced emergency medical service issues.
  • Authorizes USFA to update the National Fire Incident Reporting System to a Web-based, real-time reporting system designed to increase participation by local departments and to increase access to the data.
  • Directs USFA to maintain a database of fire-related research projects funded by USFA and the Assistance to Firefighter Grants program.
  • Directs the Fire Administrator to promote the adoption of voluntary national consensus standards that can contribute to lowering the number of line of duty deaths suffered by the fire service each year.
  • Directs the administrator to ensure coordination of USFA's activities related to fire-based Emergency Medical Services (EMS) with efforts on EMS across all levels of government.

USFA also operates the National Fire Data Center, which collects and analyses data on fire and other emergency incidents across the country. This data can be used by fire chiefs and other policy makers to make more informed decisions when addressing the fire hazards in their communities. Additionally, the agency works with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and other federal agencies, like DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate, to develop important fire fighting technologies.

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