Meet new USFA Deputy AdministratorChief Glenn Gaines

Published:  08 May, 2009

The US Fire Administration (USFA) has a new Deputy Administrator, Chief Glenn Gaines, former Fire Chief of Fairfax County in Virginia, US. He talked to Fire & Rescue magazine about the challenges facing USFA in the coming years, and its evolution as an educational and research organisation.

USFA is 30 years old. A part of FEMA, its sits within the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with responsibility for co-ordinating the dissemination of best practice information to the US’s 30,000 plus fire departments. Already, some 1.8 million students have been trained by USFA and this does not include the growing number of on-line students for whom the organisation provides 24/7 access to the Learning Resource Centre. This is the premier repository in the United States for the fire community on topics of fire prevention and education.

Chief Gaines says that the quality of service delivery has been a major priority in recent years.  “A major achievement over the last 10 years has been the rapid and significant adjustment by the USFA to the roll up into DHS. We have demonstrated our ability to work with many other fields of emergency management.”  A key factor here was the establishment of the Emergency Response Support Branch (ERSB) which has allowed closer interaction with other Federal agencies and FEMA components.

Chief Gaines says it also enhances National Response Framework coordination efforts between Federal response and the state/local emergency service sector response needs during a declared disaster. A number of programmes have grown from this branch. These include the establishment of All Hazard Incident Response Teams for state and regional support, an NOC fire desk fully staffed and integrated with DHS, a Wildland Firefighting and National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) located at the National Interagency Fire Agency (NIFC) and Critical Infrastructure Protection support to FEMA regions and fusion centres.

Implementation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) has been an important focus for USFA over the last couple of years, says Chief Gaines.  “Our personnel have participated in various working teams during the revision of NIMS and have worked closely with staff at the National Emergency Training Centre. USFA provides technical representatives on NIMS working groups, is a partner in the NIMS validation and adjudication process and consolidates responses for public comment period.”

Besides participating directly in the development and design of NIMS, USFA also has responsibility for integrating the concepts and best practice advice into USFA technical assistance programs and training curriculum. This includes disseminating NIMS updates and revisions, developing and releasing courses to assist agencies to become NIMS-compliant, and producing classes which are being delivered at state level. Chief Gaines makes it clear that compliance with NIMS is not a USFA responsibility.  “We have provided education and training but compliance is a state and local responsibility.”

Participating in these major initiatives, designed to ensure close working relationships between the key players in emergency response, has required the organisation to reappraise both its remit and how it works. However, USFA has not lost sight of its responsibilities to firefighters.

Chief Gaines says that America’s fire service leaders now have a professional development model that is being adopted at state level.  “There is now a clear career road map that leads from recruit training right up through the chief ranks which combines training and education and aligns with the consensus standards.”

Online learning is growing in importance at all levels. FEMA’s distance learning services (FEMA’s Knowledge Centre) is housed on the campus of USFA, and over eight million certifications in ICS (Incident Command System), NIMS and the NRF (National Response Framework) have been awarded to first responder students from all levels of government.
Online resources are extremely effective in reaching large numbers of people. USFA provides a host of public fire information, publications and organisational resources that fire departments can access through a variety of web portals.  There is also a Quick Response Programme, which delivers fire and life safety messages to media and fire departments in a local community soon after the report of a residential fire fatality occurs.  This is a “teachable” moment, says Chief Gaines.  “This is a way of grabbing the attention of the community and it helps reinforces many of the same messages which are provided through other means.”

There is a new Prevention and Public Education Repository which has been designed to serve as a centralised location for national, state and local fire prevention practices. Gaines says that this will help fire safety organisations share public education materials with other communications. “The materials are being added to the Learning Resource Centre’s online catalogue. The bonus is that the partnership with FEMA’s Grants Management Division will add resources to the collection which in the past may have been difficult to tap.”

More traditional learning methods have not been abandoned.  Through the National Fire Academy USFA delivers a whole series of classes ranging from two to ten days in the public education curriculum area. Several free publications and also produced, both in hard copy and online, which are made available for departments to customise and print at the local level. Social media tools, such as Twitter, are used to improve/expand external communications. USFA also participates in the PARADE network for the nation’s fire marshals and supports Arson Awareness Week, a national public education campaign designed to improve recognition, awareness and understanding of the arson problem in the US.

At a higher level, USFA continues to host and bring together the leaders in all fire sciences to learn, share, discuss and make decisions about the current and future challenges faced by residents, communities and firefighters in addressing national fire challenges. At an international level, the National Fire Academy hosts students from around the globe on a weekly basis. Chief Gaines says that students from the US benefit from the different perspectives brought to the table by these international students. “We strive to capture the lessons learned whether the event be fire, terrorism, domestic violence or acts of nature, we are always looking for lessons that can be learned by firefighters to improve current course offerings.”

And of course, there is also USFA’s research role.  According to Chief Gaines, USFA is able to provide significant support in a wide array of research areas.  “From smoke alarms to scene protection to vehicle safety – if the research is about making the national safer and our firefighters safer, then USFA will be involved.”

As an educational and research organisation, USFA does not have a “response” mission. However, as Chief Gaines points out, USFA is part of FEMA and when there is a major emergency USFA staff step up and participate in the response according to their skills and talents. “All USFA employees are deployable to natural or man-made disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, and earthquakes – indeed any Presidential declared disaster. Some might respond to the scene. For instance, following September 11 and Hurricane Katrina, USFA staff were involved in managing the emergency and all staff have assisted with emergency call centres and watch desks which have been established in Emmittsburg MD.”

Within USFA, the Emergency Response Support Branch maintains a deployable cadre of fire and emergency services technical specialist to support the NRF and its Annexes. This includes full-time staffing of the DHS-NOC Fire Desk in Washington DC and full-time staffing at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) located in Boise, ID.
In addition, USFA has a staff member located within NIFC with responsibility for ensuring proper interagency co-operation with other Federal Wildland Fire Agencies during increasing fire season activity.

“We are members of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group and the National Multi-Agency Coordination Center and we assist with the coordination of resource allocation. It also means we can serve as an interface with the structural fire service and coordinate relationships between local, state and federal firefighting agencies to mitigate wildland/urban fire interface issues.”

During the wildfire season, the USFA Fire Desk Watch officer at the NOC is very busy. This officer liaises with key agencies and helps ensure that wildfire data is captured, collected, analysed and evaluated. It is a process that assists with the releasing of national resources and Federal assets to respond and mitigate the incident. The firedesk office is also considered to be a “subject matter expert” and can provide first responder insight to DHS decision makers. He says this insight benefits the fire service by assisting decision makers in understanding fire service terminology questions and fire ground operation matters.

In conclusion, Chief Gaines explains that UFSA partners with over 50 State Fire training Agencies and with another 150 METRO Fire Department Training Departments. “We cannot do it alone, and right now more than 100 colleges and universities have partnered with us in the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education project. What has come from this effort is a nationwide curriculum for fire service classes, which forward the UFSA mission, but are paid for entirely by students or their departments.”

While the challenges to the USFA are significant, the organizations continues to seek to leverage and partner with the many fire service interest organizations nationally and internationally to have an impact on the loss of life and property as a result of fire and fire related incidents.

  • Operation Florian

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