Dole, Sullenberger Win Ovations at Packed Opening Session

The former Labor and Transportation secretary accepted the Flame of Life Award on Oct. 22, while the former airline pilot made famous by the "Miracle on the Hudson" event in New York City gave a stirring keynote.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The 2012 National Safety Congress & Expo opened with a powerful, crowded general session on Oct. 22 at the Orange County Convention Center, with National Safety Council President Janet Froetscher and Board Chairman Kent McElhattan introducing the two luminaries of the morning. 

Elizabeth Dole, former U.S. senator, Transportation secretary, and Labor secretary, received the rarely bestowed Flame of Life Award in recognition of her long career, and keynote speaker Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger was equally cheered for his heroic performance in safely ditching a US Airways jetliner in the Hudson River when both of its engines were knocked out by a bird strike moments after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in January 2009.

Sullenberger gave an excellent speech, taking pains to acknowledge the contributions of his first officer and other crew members, the passengers, rescuers, and the entire team of people involved in making commercial aviation so safe, including grounds crews and air traffic controllers. He mentioned he had never experienced the loss of a single engine during his 42-year flying career until that morning, when he lost power in two, and of course had no idea before the bird strike occurred that everything he had trained and prepared for during that career would be remembered and judged by what happened during the final 208 seconds of the flight.

"I'm still just amazed to be receiving this beautiful award," Dole said before recounting some of the key moments during her years of government service. They included getting President Ronald Reagan to agree to support an approach to combat teenage drunk driving fatalities by enacting a national 21-year-old drinking age unless states agreed to pass comprehensive airbag laws -- the national rate of seat belt use was just 13 percent in 1984, she recalled, and an auto executive shouted at her in her office, "Safety will not sell!"

"It's hard to overstate how polarized the two sides were," Dole said. Yet now, 49 states have seat belt laws, seat belt usage has risen to 85 percent nationally, and virtually all new cars are equipped with airbags. Tens of thousands of lives have been saved as a result. 

NSC officials announced during the session that Firmenich, a Geneva, Switzerland-based fragrances and flavors manufacturer with operations around the world, has won the 2012 Robert W. Campbell award for operational and EHS excellence and ExxonMobil has won the 2013 Green Cross for Safety Award. Council leaders signed the charter Oct. 21 for the Campbell Institute, a planned EHS center of excellence, and both it and the award are named for the first CEO of the council, which is celebrating the start of its second century at this annual conference.

"As we look ahead at the next hundred years, I think we can't help but feel hopeful." Froetscher said.

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