Thank you all for joining me in this special ceremony.
I want to Thank President Biden, …Secretary Mayorkas, … and FEMA Administrator Criswell for this opportunity.
I am also extremely grateful …. to the leaders of the national fire and emergency services organizations … who are here in the room… and those attending virtually… for their support… We have lots to do together!
I want to recognize my long-time mentors Chief Denny Compton and Chief Russ Sanders for their guidance … and my husband, Rich Merrell, a Fire Captain with 30 years on the job… I am thankful for his wise counsel … and his encouragement of my passion to serve … and now we are on another adventure!... I am also grateful for the support of our sons and our families!
The mission of the U.S. Fire Administration is to support and strengthen the fire and emergency medical services … to prepare for, …prevent, … mitigate … and respond to ALL hazards.
I have often heard Administrator Criswell speak about FEMA’s role in Community Preparedness and Resilience… And as I lead the USFA, … we will concentrate on the same two words … Preparedness and Resilience … but with a focus toward our fire and EMS departments … AND our Responders.
The fire and emergency services … throughout this nation … must continue to work to prevent fires and other emergencies … but also prepare to respond… to the threats and risks today … not just those for which we have traditionally trained.
We must do better to prepare for the changing landscape of what we refer to as All Hazards… With ever increasing incidence of wildland fire and other disasters … we must redouble our efforts to prevent ignition … and harden the wildland urban interface… including proper roofs, … sprinklers, … clearing property … and widening roads, … AND we must also better prepare our responders … with more appropriate PPE for wildland response… while continuously evaluating our wildland …and disaster deployment models … to assure safe, efficient, and effective use of resources.
Our fire and EMS departments… [large and small] … must continue to prepare to respond … to the consequence of the actions of violent extremists … and in the midst of civil unrest … that will inevitably occur.
Like many other federal agencies, … our National Data Center… along with local fire and EMS departments must continue to modernize... using advancements in technology… and sensors… and non-traditional data sources … coupled with community risk assessments … and historic response data… to better understand the reality of today’s risk environment … including the impact of climate change on our resources.
State, local, tribal, and territorial governments must evaluate their overall capacity and capability to respond … matching emergency resources deployed to the risk environment to which firefighters / paramedics are responding… Thereby reducing the vulnerability to firefighter injury and death…, civilian injury and death… and property loss.
And USFA must also have a role in addressing the physical and behavioral health challenges … that continue to affect our responders. For example, working with our federal partners at NIOSH to continue to study our PPE … and to assure we can stand up the National Firefighter [Cancer] Registry…. and work with our Partners at NIH to expand behavioral health resilience training programs … to assure that responders have the resources they need to stay healthy both physically and mentally.
Finally, … together we will continue to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in the fire service. I believe that we have the ability … and the desire to lead… and implement programs to create an inclusive, … diverse … and psychologically safe work-places. We can teach cultural awareness of the challenges faced by firefighters from underrepresented groups… and I believe that there is a growing willingness to challenge … and transform … the harmful aspects of the traditional fire service culture.
To close, I recognize those who went before me as U.S. Fire Administrators, … as well as the staff at USFA who maintain operations every day. I am ready to lead with you.
To Administrator Criswell, I am honored to be part of your team at FEMA. So, let’s get started.
May God Protect and Bless those on the frontline … and May God protect and bless these United States of America!