Source: CQ Homeland Security
Despite minor training upgrades in fiscal 2005, many state fire-training academies still feel left out in the cold when it comes to being able to offer training sponsored and paid for by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the academy directors say.
DHS now allows the state fire academies to teach more courses related to the National Incident Management System (NIMS) than in previous years, but the academy directors say it is too little to make much of a difference to them.
For those of us who run training programs, this is the biggest bungle, said Gary Wilson, director of the Fire and Rescue Training Institute at the University of Missouri-Columbia, in a phone interview.
Many state fire-training academies would like to offer DHS-funded training but are not doing so because most of DHS training is offered only through the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium.
The consortium, created before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, consists of the former Fort McClellan in Alabama, Louisiana State University, the Department of Energys Nevada Test Site, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and Texas A&M University.
Grants programs at DHS channel other training dollars through state capitals. Those funds, according to several state fire academy directors, are not reaching them either.
There is no coordination, Wilson said.
DHS officials did not respond to phone calls requesting comment.
Problems arising from the distribution of millions of dollars to training academies from the $3.5 billion offered yearly by DHS to state and local first responders have been smoldering for months.
In early 2003, DHS allowed the states 5 percent to 8 percent of their total grants for training, but subsequent awards allowed states greater flexibility.
In addition, the North American Fire Training Directors group met with DHS senior grants official, C. Suzanne Mencer, executive director of the DHS Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness, several times in 2004 to discuss the problems. As a result, DHS has taken some steps favored by the trainers.
For one, a list of several dozen additional courses eligible for reimbursement appeared in an Office for Domestic Preparedness Information Bulletin dated Dec. 17. Some state fire-training directors say they now qualify to teach a larger number of NIMS-related courses in particular.
Well probably be teaching 3,000 to 4,000 new people in the NIMS next year as a result, said Steven Edwards, director of the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, which typically trains about 30,000 students a year.
Many of the new NIMS enrollees are not in the fire service but rather law enforcement, public works and medicine, Edwards said.
Its a start, but we still have a long way to go, Edwards said.
But in Missouri, North Dakota and Connecticut, among others, the state academy directors say DHS rules still have not opened the door for them. DHS restrictions and state government priorities for the training dollars still block funding.
Were getting calls every day about training for NIMS … but were not getting any of those training dollars, Missouris Wilson said.
The directors also say they have local instructors standing ready to teach courses. Instead, they must step aside while training funds go to contractors and consortium instructors.
We have 12 to 15 people qualified to teach the NIMS, and wed like to get the NIMS funding, said Lois Hartman, executive director of the North Dakota State Fire School.
But despite many years of state endorsements for fire service courses, Hartman said, she has been struggling to get recognized by her state as a trainer for DHS-funded courses.
The fire service is not receiving any of it, Hartman said of DHS training money for North Dakota.
The same is true in Connecticut. I get nothing from DHS, said Adam Piskura, director of training at the Connecticut Fire Academy.
Piskura said he is offering to train students at a low cost, but he is competing against free courses sponsored by DHS and taught by consortium instructors flown in from out of state. I cannot compete with free, Piskura said.
The state training academies have offered high-quality training meeting national fire service standards for years, their directors argue.
For example, the fire academies delivered federal anti-terrorism training under the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Domestic Preparedness Program, created in 1997. Each state fire academy received about $80,000 annually under the program, but it was dissolved when DHS was created in 2002.
The fire-training directors say their problems also involve DHS relationship with the National Fire Academy (NFA), operated by the U.S. Fire Administration, which became part of DHS in March 2003.
For many months, DHS grants office had not certified several national fire academy courses as eligible for reimbursement through DHS first responder grant programs. The delay also affected NFA courses taught at the state academies.
A spokesman for the NFA declined to respond to requests for comment.
DHS grant guidance for fiscal 2005 states that training academies can submit proposed new courses that meet DHS criteria for reimbursement approval.
However, the fire-training directors say the new guidelines are too narrowly defined to make much difference. I dont see anything there for the state fire academies, Hartman said.