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Summit on Fire Prevention and Control

National Roundtable Testimony: Critical Issues Facing the Fire Service

Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell, Fire Administrator, U.S. Fire Administration

June 8 was a historic day this year. That is because June 8 was the only day that there were no known reported civilian home fire fatalities. Every other day this year, civilians have died in a fire at home, where they should be safest.

Some of these tragedies make the evening news, like the Jan. 5 fire in Philadelphia that killed 12 people, among them 9 children, and just 4 days later, on Jan. 9, 17 people (including 8 children) were killed in the Bronx, New York. 44 civilians were injured, and 17 of those injured were under the age of 18.

But the many other lives lost so far this year did not make the national headlines. As your U.S fire administrator and with my 35 years' experience in the fire and emergency services, I know that these are preventable deaths.

We gather at this National Roundtable from different organizations, but today we stand together as a unified fire service. Some of the issues discussed may take some time to resolve, while others can begin immediately.

For example, we must begin today because climate change affects where fires occur and directly impacts firefighters without sufficient training and protective equipment. Chief Donna Black from Duck, North Carolina, and the president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs will speak to this issue.

We must begin today because we are facing the fire problem in America with fewer firefighters than we need. Chief Kevin Quinn from Union Fire District in Rhode Island and the National Volunteer Fire Council will present our plan to increase the number of firefighters with a similar program already underway in the U.S. Department of Labor.

We must begin today because somewhere in our country, at this moment, a firefighter is being diagnosed with cancer from their exposures on the job. General President Ed Kelly of the International Association of Fire Fighters will speak about these issues.

Firefighters also face a mental toll that must be addressed. Chief Ernie Mitchell, former U.S. fire administrator and representative of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, will discuss the efforts needed to prevent firefighters dying by suicide.

We are not just here today to talk about the fire problem in America. We are here to offer solutions. Therefore, Chief Mitchell will also offer a possible solution to elevate the fire service within the federal government to work side-by-side with other agencies working to protect and serve communities.

Finally, we must do a better job at ensuring that no more lives are taken by fires that could have been prevented if the codes and standards that are in place were enforced. Mr. Jim Pauley, president and CEO of the National Fire Protection Association will be speaking about this issue.

We must begin today because until every day is like June 8, we should do everything we can on the federal, state and local levels to achieve a fire-safe America.