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U.S. Fire Administrator's Summit on Fire Prevention and Control

Highlights from the U.S. Fire Administrator's Summit on Fire Prevention and Control held on Oct. 11, 2022, at the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Left to right: Chief Donna Black (IAFC), Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell (USFA), Chief Kevin Quinn (NVFC), Deputy Secretary John Tien (DHS), General President Edward Kelly (IAFF), Administrator Deanne Criswell (FEMA), Chief Ernie Mitchell (NFFF), Caitlin Durkovich (National Security Council) and James Pauley (NFPA).

On Oct. 11, 2022, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), in partnership with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, hosted the U.S. Fire Administrator's Summit on Fire Prevention and Control. The summit consisted of 2 segments:

  • National fire service leaders participated in a roundtable discussion to brief leadership from the Biden Administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the critical issues facing the fire service.
  • State of Science presentations from national fire service and research experts on climate change, recruitment and retention, firefighter cancer, behavioral health, codes and standards implementation, and elevation of the fire service within the federal government.

Watch the State of Science presentations

Critical issues facing the fire service

Testimony from Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell, U.S. Fire Administrator

6 issues were identified for immediate action on the part of the federal government.

Impact of climate change

Read testimony on this issue

Prepare all firefighters for the climate-driven increase in wildfires in the wildland urban interface (WUI) by providing them with the proper training and equipment.

Issue: WUI fires are one of the most devastating fire problems in the United States. Currently, most structural firefighters receive little to no training on how to respond, remain safe and/or how to operate effectively in an extremely dangerous and dynamic fire environment.

Impact areas

Occurrence of wildfire

According to a June 2022 U.S. Congressional Budget Office report, the intensity of wildfires has increased, as has the number of wildfires impacting the built environment over the past 30 years. As our nation continues to grow and develop in the WUI, our communities are faced with increased wildfire threats associated with:

  • Increased populations.
  • Reduced land management practices.
  • Dangerous increase of fuel buildup.
  • Climate change.

The fire service today is faced with 3 main fire types:

  1. Structural fires — Fires involving built construction where trained firefighters have specific strategies and tactics to maintain life safety and gain control of a fire, including interior attack, exterior attack, search and rescue, ventilation, salvage, and overhaul.
  2. Wildland fires — Fires typically involving trees and other vegetation where wildland trained firefighters use specific strategies and tactics to gain control and suppress the fire, including offensive (direct attack) and defensive (indirect attack), backfire burning, and trenching. These strategies use equipment and/or resources such as bulldozers, aircraft, hand crews and fire engines to construct fire lines that provide control and containment of the fire.
  3. WUI fires — Fires occurring in the built (structural) environment directly adjacent to or intermixed with a wildland area. WUI fire operations have nonstandardized and relatively new and different strategies and tactics when compared with either strictly structural or wildland firefighting. Firefighters operating in the WUI use primary and secondary tactics typically conducted by structural engine crews attempting to adapt these tactics to fit the wildland fire situation.

Firefighting resources

Wildfire knows no boundaries. Fires can start and burn across federal, tribal, state, local and private lands. That means fires are often fought with a combination of agencies and firefighters from different training backgrounds and employers. These differences include seasonal federal and state wildland firefighters, state and local career firefighters, and volunteer firefighters from community-based fire stations. While some firefighters trained to operate in the built environment are also specifically trained to engage in wildland firefighting, the majority have little to no training for operating in an urban or suburban conflagration with multiple structures burning simultaneously.

Advances in command and coordination, especially at large, long-duration wildland and WUI fire events, have improved resource deployment and operations on the ground. However, these resources often take time to get into place. Therefore, initial response often comes from state and local fire departments, many of which are already dealing with limited and overworked staff.

Training, equipment and water

Local fire department responders are typically trained as structural firefighters given that single-family dwellings are the most common fire risk they encounter. Structural firefighters, accustomed to fighting 1 structure fire at a time, are now being confronted with multiple structures burning simultaneously. They must react and respond with uncharacteristic tactics and strategies to successfully mitigate the event by reducing or eliminating fire spread. The reality is that they must add urban interface wildfire strategies and tactics to their operational repertoire.

As the risk of losing entire communities from wildfire extends to a year-round threat, staffing resources, proper training and equipment are necessary to fight these WUI fires.

Training and equipment

Communities across the nation are experiencing an increasing number of larger and more destructive wildland, urban interface and suburban conflagration fires. Because these fires are occurring more often in both suburban and rural areas adjacent to or intermixed with the wildland, structural firefighters are regularly involved in suppression efforts and responsible for defending homes and critical infrastructure. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Needs Assessment, 88% of structural fire departments in the U.S. respond to urban interface fires, but only 40% of those fire departments provide training on urban interface strategy and tactics.

Additionally, there is often difficulty accessing wildland firefighting equipment, including personal protective equipment (PPE) and proper footwear for both women and men who attend training and are involved in WUI firefighting.

Water access

Particularly in the West, water is a limited and often contested resource. Drought conditions elsewhere in the country are causing similar effects to spread eastward. Scarcity of water has a severe impact on firefighting efforts. Additionally, fire in watershed areas and burn scars following a fire can contaminate water resources as debris and other contaminants affect both availability of potable water and treatment efforts.

Fire service apprenticeship program

Read testimony on this issue

Invest in a national apprenticeship program to address the shortage of firefighters and to make the fire service more diverse and inclusive.

Issue: In recent years there has been a steady decline in the number of firefighters in the nation. This decline is impacting both career and volunteer departments, leaving the communities they serve vulnerable to threats and increasing the stresses among firefighters and the municipalities. It is imperative that we invest in programs to incentivize individuals to join volunteer and career fire departments.

Impact areas

Local communities are facing numerous challenges when it comes to staffing local fire departments. The COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest, and active shooter and mass casualty events have all contributed to recruitment and retention challenges for career and volunteer fire departments. In addition, increasing emergency call volumes, greater time demands, time-consuming training requirements, aging communities, and the physical and behavioral risks of the occupation create further challenges to fire departments struggling to maintain sufficient staffing levels.

The fire service struggles to recruit and retain women and people of color. The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2019 reported that 11.6% of career firefighters were Hispanic or Latino, 8.5% were African American, and 1.3% were Asian-Pacific Islanders. Women represent 11% of volunteer firefighters and 5% of career firefighters according to the NFPA's 2022 “U.S. Fire Department Profile” report based on 2020 data.

The creation of a national fire service apprenticeship program would assist local communities in addressing the shortage of firefighters in both career and volunteer departments and help make the fire service become a more diverse and inclusive vocation. The fire service apprenticeship program should be designed to mirror the Department of Labor's Registered Apprenticeship and the Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs.

Number of Career Firefighters and Rate per 1,000 People (1986-2020)

Number of career firefighters237750243200252500250600253000261800253000259650265700260850266300275700278300279900286800293600291650296850305150313300316950323350321700335950335150344050345950354600346150345600361100373600370000358000364300
Career firefighters per 1,000 people1.731.731.771.751.731.731.721.731.761.701.741.731.701.691.641.701.681.671.711.681.741.741.731.721.661.691.671.671.681.541.691.801.811.741.72

Number of Volunteer Firefighters and Rate per 1,000 People (1986-2020)

Number of volunteer firefighters808200816800788250770100772650771800805300795400807900838000815500803350804200785250777350784700816600800050795600823650823950825450827150812150768150756400783300786150788250814850729000682600745000722800676900
Volunteer firefighters per 1,000 people7.888.057.777.457.567.617.347.257.197.426.987.127.186.937.
Source: NFPA. US Fire Department Profile 2020 Rita Fahy, Ben Evarts and Gary P. Stein, September 2022.

Impact of occupational cancer

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Establish a comprehensive firefighter cancer strategy that invests in research, provides access to cancer screening for firefighters, and reduces and eliminates PFAS exposure.

Issue: Firefighters have a 9% higher risk of developing cancer and a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer compared to the general public.

Impact areas


Greater investment in research will expand our understanding of the mechanisms between occupational exposures and cancer, why firefighters are at heightened risk for some cancers, and ensure we better understand the cancer risks of our understudied populations, including women and minorities.

Access to cancer screenings

Preventive screenings can identify cancer in its earliest stages when positive treatment outcomes are more likely. However, it remains difficult for individual firefighters to receive early screenings as current screening guidance does not account for their occupational exposures. Revised screening guidance can help medical professionals and insurance companies understand the need to screen firefighters based on their higher cancer risk.

Reduce and eliminate PFAS exposures

PFAS are likely carcinogenic chemicals that degrade very slowly, earning the label “forever chemicals.” PFAS are found in firefighters' blood, their firehouses, some firefighting foams, and perhaps most concerning, bunker gear. These chemicals are intensifying exposures coming from the very gear meant to protect firefighters. Next-generation PPE can remove this risk.

firefighter routes of cancer exposure diagram

Firefighters: Sign up for the National Firefighter Registry

The registry is the largest effort ever undertaken to understand and reduce risk of cancer among U.S. firefighters. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is recruiting firefighters to join the registry so that it can better understand the link between firefighting and cancer.

Impact of behavioral health

Read testimony on this issue

Provide behavioral health resources and suicide prevention initiatives for all firefighters.

Issue: An increasing number of firefighters are dying by suicide as a result of suffering from behavioral health issues — including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — from exposures that they have suffered while delivering emergency services to the public. There is a lack of culturally competent behavioral health specialists to assist firefighters and local Employee Assistance Programs are ill-equipped to assist first responders.

Impact areas

Firefighters and other rescue personnel develop PTSD at a similar rate to military service members returning from combat, according to an August 2016 study from the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. The report reveals that approximately 20% of firefighters and paramedics meet the criteria for PTSD at some point during their career.1 This compares to a 6.8% lifetime risk for the general population. The connection between PTSD and traumatizing rescue work is clear.

The number of firefighter suicides is estimated to be at least 100 per year. According to the “Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health and Suicide of First Responders,” the suicide rate for firefighters is 18 per 100,000 compared to 13 per 100,000 for the general public.

The federal government has a responsibility to protect those who protect us by investing in the protectors' mental health. Grant programs funding peer-supported behavioral health and wellness programs within fire departments should be established by Congress. Resources should be available to health care providers highlighting best practices for addressing PTSD among public safety officers. Accurate data on the prevalence and causes of PTSD and suicide with the fire service must be collected. According to evidence-based research, behavioral health awareness campaigns provide effective intervention methods. It is our collective responsibility to provide those who serve with the tools they need to help themselves and each other.

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline program mark

The FBI launched the Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection on Jan. 1, 2022.2 to help improve understanding and prevent suicide among law enforcement officers. We applaud this effort, and a similar data collection model is needed at the USFA.

It is our position that we need to provide behavioral health resources and suicide prevention initiatives for all firefighters. Like other injuries, early detection, access to culturally competent behavioral health specialists and proper screening can help reduce the effects of PTSD. Many insurance providers cap the costs related to behavioral health assistance, and treatment centers for behavioral health programs are often out of the reach of the average firefighter.

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Impact of codes and standards

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Create safer communities by implementing and enforcing codes and standards, especially in the WUI and under-served and vulnerable populations, and provide affordable and fire-safe housing.

Issue: State and local governments are responsible for promoting the use and enforcement of current codes and standards. The federal government can help by incentivizing compliance and providing funding to local jurisdictions for code implementation, inspection and enforcement. This will increase fire and life safety in our communities, especially in the WUI and among underserved and vulnerable populations.

Impact areas

Model building codes improve building resilience to natural disasters and save $11 for every $1 invested.1.

All nationally recognized modern building and fire codes require the use of life-saving technology like smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms and automatic fire sprinkler systems.

Nearly a million households live in public housing units in the United States,2 and fire safety improvements in public housing must receive heightened attention. In 1992, Congress passed the Federal Fire Safety Act (15 USC 2227), requiring newly constructed multifamily housing units to have fire sprinklers. HUD estimates that approximately 570,000 multifamily public housing units that were constructed before the sprinkler requirement are in their inventory. A significant portion of these units lack the protection offered by fire sprinklers.

In buildings with automatic fire sprinkler systems, the civilian fire death rate is 89% lower than nonsprinklered buildings and the injury rate is 27% lower. Furthermore, property damage decreases significantly in buildings protected by fire sprinklers.3 Investments must be made in retrofitting public housing with fire sprinkler systems.

Nearly 3 out of 5 home fire deaths are caused by fires in properties without smoke alarms or smoke alarms that failed to operate.4 HUD must provide resources to public housing authorities to either retrofit housing units with hardwired smoke alarms or require the installation of tamper-resistant long-life battery-powered smoke alarms.

photo of Fairmount neighborhood fire

Philadelphia Fire Department (PFD) units operating at January 2022 multifatality fire in the city's Fairmount neighborhood. Photo credit: PFD Community Action Team

photo of Twin Parks Fire incident scene

Jan. 9, 2022: Bronx, New York: New York City Fire Department (FDNY) units operating at the Twin Parks Fire. Tragically, 17 people died at this fire. However, many more were rescued by the FDNY. Photo credit: Frank Leeb

  • 1 Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2019 Report (National Institute for Building Sciences; Dec. 1, 2019)
  • 2 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Public and Indian Housing
  • 3 U.S. Experience with Sprinklers (NFPA; October 2021)
  • 4 Smoke Alarms in US Home Fires (NFPA; February 2021)

Elevation of the fire service in federal policy development

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Involve the fire service in federal policy development on an equal basis with law enforcement.

Issue: The fire service must be included in federal policy development on an equal basis with law enforcement when federal agencies develop policies and programs related to public safety, such as first responder behavioral health, building and fire codes, and the 5 mission areas of the National Preparedness Goal (prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery).

Impact areas

The White House Fiscal Year 2023 budget proposal includes $1.97 billion in discretionary funding to support state and local law enforcement, an increase of 12% over the previous fiscal year.1 This represents a significant investment in local law enforcement and is much needed. Despite the significant fire problem our nation faces, the Biden Administration requested $740 million for grants to local fire departments.2 The NFPA estimated the total cost of fire in the United States in 2014 was $328.5 billion, approximately 1.9% of the U.S. gross domestic product.3 Federal investments in fire protection and response are not sufficient to address the scope of the problem.

In addition to supporting local law enforcement, federal law enforcement agencies have a significant presence in the federal government. These agencies include the Air Force Office of Special Investigations; Army Criminal Investigation Division; Defense Criminal Investigative Service; Naval Criminal Investigative Service; Coast Guard Investigative Service (Department of Defense); Customs and Border Protection; Federal Protective Service; Immigration and Customs Enforcement; U.S. Secret Service (DHS); Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; Federal Bureau of Investigation; U.S. Marshal Service (Department of Justice); U.S. Park Police (Department of the Interior); IRS Criminal Investigations Division (Department of Treasury); U.S. Postal Inspection Service (U.S. Postal Service); Probation and Pretrial Services (Judicial Conference of the U.S.); and U.S. Capitol Police (United States Congress).

Nearly every department and agency in the federal government touches upon fire and emergency services. These departments are responsible for engaging with fire service stakeholders — inside and outside of the federal government — when developing policies and procedures impacting fire and life safety. Despite the fire service's significant footprint within these departments' missions, there is a lack of coordination and cohesive policy development among these agencies. Consistent, competent and effective leadership at the USFA level can coordinate these policies and ensure that the fire service stakeholders can effectively operate at the national level.

The USFA should be elevated within FEMA and transformed into a multidisciplinary response, preparedness and mitigation agency. As many response agencies already have, each FEMA region should have a dedicated USFA specialist to assist in the planning and response to disasters. The USFA must be fully funded and appropriately staffed in order to execute its mission.

  • 1 FACT SHEET: President Biden's Budget Invests in Reducing Gun Crime to Make Our Communities Safer (White House; March 28, 2022)
  • 2 Fiscal Year 2023 President's Budget
  • 3 Total Cost of Fire in the United States (NFPA; October 2017)

The federal government has numerous agencies and programs impacting the nation's fire and emergency services. Nearly every department in the federal government touches upon fire and emergency services. Here is a snapshot of some of the various programs in the federal government impacting fire and life safety.

Department of Defense
Military firefighter health and safety
Department of Justice
Bureau of Justice Assistance
Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program
Department of the Interior
Bureau of Land Management
Wildland firefighting
Department of Agriculture
U.S. Forest Service
Wildland firefighting
Department of Commerce
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)
Department of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Department of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
National Firefighter Registry
Department of Housing and Urban Development
Public and Indian Housing
Safe and affordable housing for our most vulnerable populations
Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Office of EMS
Department of Energy
Office of Environment, Health, Safety and Security
Fire Protection Program
Department of Education
Office of Postsecondary Education
Campus Safety and Security
Department of Veterans Affairs
Safe and affordable housing for veterans and their families
Department of Homeland Security
National Fire Academy
Assistance to Firefighters/Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response/Fire Prevention and Safety Grants

Scenes from the 2022 summit

2022 U.S. Fire Administrator's Summit on Fire Prevention and Control: A National Roundtable

national roundtable cover

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