USFA Research Program – Science Saving Lives

by Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator Glenn Gaines

The Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-498) authorizes the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) to develop, test, and evaluate equipment used by the Nation’s fire, rescue, and civil defense services and conduct management studies with the aim of improving firefighting suppression and operations, as well as protection and notification devices, by incorporating the latest technology.  In order to carry out these goals, the USFA’s National Fire Data Center (NFDC) initiates research projects covering a variety of topics to mitigate the loss of life and property due to fire and related emergencies.  These projects address a number of areas including firefighting operations, emergency vehicle and roadway operations safety, protective clothing and equipment, firefighter wellness, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), communications, virtual firefighter training, smoke alarms, and residential sprinklers.

Structural collapse fire test conducted with the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
To leverage our resources, many initiatives are accomplished by working in partnership with other Federal agencies and national level fire service organizations, such as the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Association of Fire Fighters. For example:
  • USFA is working with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Health Affairs on numerous EMS research initiatives.
  • USFA and the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety are collaborating on a study of cancer among firefighters, one of the largest occupational health research studies of the fire service ever conducted.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology and USFA are teaming to create virtual reality training that will effectively teach firefighters about fire behavior and the impact of firefighting tactics on a fire without the possibility of harming themselves or others.
  • The National Institute of Justice and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration provide critical support to USFA’s emergency vehicle and roadway safety efforts.
USFA also works with the DHS’s Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, serving as a member of the S&T Standards Council and providing input on critical research needs of the fire service, as well as providing technical assistance for its efforts in emergency responder locator and physiological monitoring research.  Furthermore, USFA provides technical assistance to the U.S. Department of Justice related to firefighter safety research that can also benefit law enforcement officer operational safety.
The NFDC continues to initiate innovative research and applied technology project efforts in support of emergency responder health and safety and civilian life safety.  New studies related to cancer among firefighters, public safety emergency vehicle safety, smoke alarm technology, and firefighter protective equipment have recently been initiated.  The goal of these projects is to reduce the approximately 3,000 fire-related civilian deaths and 100 firefighter fatalities that occur each year, as well as thousands of injuries and more than 12.5 billion dollars in annual direct property loss.

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