Mitchell: USFA Busy with Myriad of Projects

Things are going full steam ahead at the USFA these days.

While the projects run the gamut, they all have one central theme – enhance the safety of people who are answering the calls, explained USFA Administrator Ernie Mitchell.

Whether it’s educating the public about the importance of home sprinklers, smoke detectors and escape plans or promoting health and safety for firefighters and EMS personnel, he said the staff is always looking for opportunities to partner.

“We understand we can’t do it alone, and we try to engage our stakeholders,” Mitchell told Firehouse.com in a recent interview.

He is pleased that the number of on-duty firefighter fatalities continues to decline. However, Mitchell said it’s not time to sit back.

“At least 34 firefighters died of heart attacks last year. Strokes also are killing our firefighters. We need to focus serious attention to those. We continue to emphasize the importance of being fit for duty…”

Mitchell says that all major fire service organizations including the NVFC, IAFC and IAFF have joined the USFA to promote a healthier lifestyle for responders. In addition to making healthy choices at mealtime, they also are encouraging safe practices such as wearing a seatbelt and being cautious while working on a road.

Preventing fires also enhances responder safety, and the USFA head said it’s in everyone’s best interest to promote it. “Here again, we’re partnering with a number of organizations who have great programs. Fires are everyone’s fight.”

Mitchell said he can’t say enough about how important it is for people to install home sprinklers. Furniture and other home furnishings are burning hotter and faster which means a resident’s time for escaping down.

He pointed out that studies on these materials are taking place in various labs. It’s important, he said, that firefighters understand what they’re facing fighting a home fire, and that flashovers can occur quicker.

Even with everyone feeling the budget crunch, it’s important that the research continue as responders’ and civilians’ lives are at stake. “We’re fortunate we have the expertise of talented people…”

Mitchell encourages responders to use National Incident Fire Reporting System (NIFRS) as they assess hazards in their areas.

He said the staff has been working to make the data base more user friendly so the valuable information can be obtained by fire officials.

The former fire chief from California is quick to admit he promotes education. To be effective, but more importantly safe, firefighters have to keep abreast of the latest techniques, technology and challenges.

He says the staff at National Fire Academy -- where there’s a waiting list for officials to attend classes – has made adjustments recently including issuing letter grades.

“We have great, talented instructors who are always taking it a step beyond…”

 In addition to attending on-campus courses in Emmitsburg, there are an increasing number of classes available on statewide level which cuts down on the expense of travel.

Mitchell added that while times are tough, he expects America’s responders will accept the challenges ahead. “That’s what we’re all about…”

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