Hundreds across the nation attend fire service leadership summit in Md.
U.S. Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell presided over the event that focused on current problems in the fire service
By Clara Niel
The Frederick News-Post
EMMITSBURG, Md. — Hundreds of firefighting leaders and experts from across the nation gathered at the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg on Tuesday for the second annual U.S. Fire Administrator’s Summit on Fire Prevention and Control.
Thousands more tuned in virtually to discuss and listen to important topics in their field.
For example, the summit addressed how climate change is driving an increase in wildfires and how lithium batteries can be a fire risk. The batteries catch fire quickly, giving people little time to react. Because of that, fire deaths are increasing, as well.
This year’s summit had double the attendance from last year’s, Evrim Bunn, a spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said.
Frederick County Fire Chief Tom Coe said in an interview after the event that the summit, hosted by U.S. Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell, was motivating and enlightening. It was his first year attending, and he plans to go again next year.
Many national issues discussed at the summit were relevant to challenges Frederick County firefighters face, he said.
The day started with a roundtable in which people spoke about current issues in the fire service. The afternoon consisted of several panelists discussing new science and technology on the horizon.
Coe said topics surrounding firefighter well-being resonated with him, since firefighter welfare is a chief concern at the Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services.
Experts and firefighters talked about the rising number of cases of cancer among firefighters and the need for more mental health resources.
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Firefighters have a 9% higher risk of developing cancer, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. They have a 14% higher chance of dying from cancer compared to the general public.
Firefighters have higher rates of suicide than the general public does, the administration said.
The Division of Fire and Rescue Services is already on track with improving mental health services by hiring a new behavioral health coordinator, he said.
“It’s really important that that conversation gets held within the service to really break the stigma of reaching out for mental health care,” he said.
Building codes and standards are especially important, as well, he said, with the continued growth in Frederick County.
Firefighters face new hazards when technology and building construction techniques evolve, he said. Making sure buildings follow standards and codes that address those hazards saves lives, he said.
The summit addressed some places where the agency needs to renew its focus, he said, like wildland-urban interface (WUI).
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the WUI is “the zone of transition between unoccupied land and human development.”
People who build homes or structures in woods or mountains, Coe said, may find themselves more likely to be caught in a wildfire considering the fuel that surrounds the structures.
While Frederick County hasn’t experienced a wildfire in a long time, the county should remain prepared for one, he said.
“Ensuring that Frederick County citizens are prepared, knowledgeable on actions to take, how to prevent structures that are built in the wildland urban interface from being susceptible to fires, are things that I think are really important to us and areas of community risk reduction that we’ll want to concentrate on as an organization,” he said.
The summit was an opportunity for national firefighting leaders to be forthcoming with government officials on what they need.
Top government officials, such as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, attended the summit.
President Joe Biden was scheduled to speak in person, but due to the Israel-Hamas war, he spoke to attendees virtually.
The attendance of top officials and others show that they see the problems within the service and want to help those who are affected, Bunn said.
Coe agreed, saying officials offered funding opportunities and solutions to consider.
“I do think that they were very receptive and look forward to some forward progress on some of the issues that were discussed,” he said.