Fire Service Leaders Claim National Fire Academy in Fight to Survive as Funds Go to Law Enforcement

January 30, 2005

Training in fire prevention and protection at the National Fire Academy is being slowly degraded as the federal Department of Homeland Security shifts funds to law enforcement and other programs, national fire service leaders say.

The school in northern Frederick County in Maryland is run by the U.S. Fire Administration, a unit of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Since Homeland Security assumed control of FEMA in 2002, the USFA’s budget has been cut by 25 percent or $13.5 million, The Frederick News-Post reported.

“We are fighting for the survival of the USFA and the NFA,” said Burton W. Phelps, president of the Society of National Fire Academy Instructors. “We could be on the verge of extinction.”

USFA Deputy Director Charlie Dickinson acknowledged there have been changes but he said his agency still plays an important role, including teaching police agencies an incident-command system that the fire service has used for years.

Dickinson also said the government still supports the fire service, citing $750 million in recent grants to 8,000 fire companies for equipment purchases.

The academy trains mid- and upper-level emergency-services managers from the around the country. Curtailed activities at the academy include new course development, data and analysis efforts, public education programs — including juvenile fire-setting intervention initiatives — and joint funding of projects promoting fire and injury protection, the News-Post reported.

Prevention programs were slashed 52 percent between September and December last year, said Wayne Powell, who recently resigned as chief of the USFA’s Citizen and Community Preparedness Program.

“DHS has a two-pronged focus, security and safety. Security, that includes snooping and screening, is OK. But, the safety piece they just don’t get.”

In 2002, the academy temporarily canceled dozens of classes as part of an across-the-board reduction at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which includes the USFA. Most were restored after fire and emergency-services leaders rallied congressional support.

“We fought them then and won,” Phelps said. “We must do it all over again. The script is the same, only the players have changed.”

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