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In Photos: Honoring Fallen Firefighters

PoThe names of firefighters who lost their lives in 2010 are unveiled at the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial.
Emmitsburg, MD, October 16, 2011 -- The names of firefighters who lost their lives in 2010 are unveiled at the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial. Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator, and Glenn Gaines, Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration, were in attendance to honor those who lost their lives serving their communities, and support the families they leave behind. (Photo courtesy of Fallen Firefighters Foundation)

Yesterday, the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation hosted a memorial service remembering firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Administrator Fugate and Glenn Gaines, Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator, were among those in attendance, honoring those who have died in the line of duty to serve their communities, and supporting the families they leave behind.

Administrator Fugate delivered a message from the president as part of Fire Prevention Week – here’s part of that message:


Fires, whether caused by people or nature, can have devastating effects. Hundreds of thousands of fires happen in and around American homes every year, killing or injuring thousands of people and causing untold damage to families and communities. This week, we honor the selfless first responders who put themselves on the line to safeguard us all from fire, and we reaffirm the need for Americans to practice fire safety throughout the year…

This week, our Nation honors the dedicated firefighters and other first responders who do the hard, dangerous work of keeping our communities safe from fire. Many have laid down their lives to save our friends and neighbors, and their selfless sacrifice defines the nature of courage. As we pay tribute to their memories, let us resolve to maintain our vigilance and take proactive steps to stop fire emergencies before they begin.

As we often say at FEMA, emergency management is a team effort, and we wholeheartedly commend the daily sacrifices of first responders working to meet the immediate needs of those affected by a disaster – whether it’s a hurricane, earthquake or home fire.

Here are more images from the memorial service, held at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Md.

Glenn Gaines, Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration, stands with Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator, as they honor firefighters who lost their lives at the National Fallen Firefighter memorial service.
Emmitsburg, MD, October 16, 2011 -- Glenn Gaines, Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration, stands with Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator, as they honor firefighters who lost their lives at the National Fallen Firefighter memorial service. (Photo courtesy of Fallen Firefighters Foundation)

As part of the Fallen Firefighters memorial service, firefighters and family members honor those who have lost their lives serving their communities.
Emmitsburg, MD, October 16, 2011 -- As part of the Fallen Firefighters memorial service, firefighters and family members honor those who have lost their lives serving their communities. (Photo courtesy of Fallen Firefighters Foundation)

Firefighters stand at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial during the Fallen Firefighters memorial service.
Emmitsburg, MD, October 15, 2011 -- Firefighters stand at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial during the Fallen Firefighters memorial service. Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator, and Glenn Gaines, Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration, were in attendance to honor those who have lost their lives serving their communities and support the families they leave behind. (Photo courtesy of Fallen Firefighters Foundation)

A firefighter displays a flag as part of the National Fallen Firefighters memorial service.
Emmitsburg, MD, October 16, 2011 -- A firefighter displays a flag as part of the National Fallen Firefighters memorial service. Each year, firefighters and their families gather to honor those who have lost their lives serving their communities. (Photo courtesy of Fallen Firefighters Foundation)

Protecting your Family from Fire: Smoke Alarms and Home Escape Plans

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Throughout Fire Prevention Week, I’ve reflected on the changes in how we prepare for and prevent fires, as well as the importance of properly using a fire extinguisher. To wrap up the week, I wanted to remind you that protecting your family and home from fire all begins with prevention.


Have working smoke alarms in your home

Properly installed and maintained smoke alarms are one of the best and least expensive means of providing an early warning of a potentially deadly fire and could reduce the risk of dying from a fire in your home by almost half.

 A smoke alarm stands guard around the clock and when it first senses smoke, sounds a shrill alarm. This often allows a family the precious but limited time it takes to escape.

Here are some key reminders for placing and maintaining the smoke alarms in your residence:

  • Replace smoke alarms no later than ten years after their installation.
  • The U.S. Fire Administration also recommends that you have smoke alarms inside and outside of bedrooms, on every level in your home, and interconnected so that when one smoke alarm sounds they will all sound.
  • Test your smoke alarms every month.

Review and practice your fire escape plan regularly

When making a fire escape plan, it’s important to:
  • Discuss the plan with everyone in your household, especially family members who cannot escape unassisted.
  • Plan two ways out of every room.
  • Designate an outside meeting place, away from your home, but where the firefighters can see that you are out and safe.
  • Practice your escape plan every month at least twice a year with everyone in your home. Practice at night and during the daytime.
 In case a fire does occur, remember to:
  • Leave your home.
  • Call the fire department from outside using a cell phone or a neighbor’s phone.
  • Get out and stay out! Never return to a burning building!
Following these two steps – maintaining smoke alarms around your home and reviewing/practicing your fire escape plan – will go a long way in preventing the loss of life and property from fire.

I encourage you to share this information with family, loved ones and friends and emphasize the importance of fire prevention – it could save your life, or that of someone you love.

For more information on smoke alarms and fire escape planning, and help in identifying potential fire hazards in your home, visit the Ready.gov/fires. To learn more about resources for sharing fire safety, and for free publications, visit the U.S. Fire Administration’s website.

Protecting Your Family from Fire: Fire Extinguishers

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Fire Prevention Week graphic.
At the U.S. Fire Administration, we receive numerous questions throughout the year (and especially during Fire Prevention Week) related to home fire safety, but none more so than questions related to fire extinguishers.

The use of a fire extinguisher in the hands of a trained adult can be a life and property saving tool. However, a majority of adults have not had fire extinguisher training and may not know how and when to use them. Several years ago when I was still on the job as Chief with the Fairfax County Fire/Rescue department, I recall an incident to which my fire company was dispatched. It was an early morning apartment fire where the occupants of a first floor unit attempted to extinguish a kitchen fire using a fire extinguisher without ever calling the fire department. Ultimately, the fire entered the partitions, spread to the upper floors, and tragically killed one occupant on the third floor.

Fire extinguisher use requires a sound decision making process and training on their proper use and maintenance, both were absent in this incident. When should you or your family members use a fire extinguisher to control a home fire? I would like you to consider the following three questions before purchasing or using a fire extinguisher:

  1. What type of fire extinguisher is needed?
  2. Different types of fires require different types of extinguishers. For example, a grease fire and an electrical fire require the use of different extinguishing agents to be effective and safely put the fire out. For your home, select a multi-purpose fire extinguisher - such as those labeled "Class B-C" or "Class A-B-C" - that can be used on all types of home fires. And make sure the extinguisher isn’t too heavy to handle.
  3. Is the fire at a point where it might still be controlled by a fire extinguisher?
  4. Portable fire extinguishers contain a limited amount of extinguishing material and are valuable for immediate use on small fires only. For example, when a pan initially catches fire, it may be safe to turn off the burner, place a lid on the pan, and use an extinguisher. If the fire has spread, however, these actions will not be adequate. Only trained firefighters can safely extinguish such fires. Use a fire extinguisher only if:
      • Other occupants have left the building (your number one priority!) and someone has called the fire department; 
      • The fire is small and contained to a single object, such as a wastebasket; 
      • You are safe from the toxic smoke produced by the fire; 
      • You have a means of escape identified and the fire is not between you and the escape route; and 
      • Your instincts tell you that it is safe to use an extinguisher.  If not all of these conditions are present, you should NOT try to use a fire extinguisher. Alert other occupants, leave the building following your home fire escape plan, go to the agreed upon meeting place, and call 9-1-1 or your fire department’s emergency number from a cell phone or a neighbor's home.
         
  5. Am I physically capable of using the extinguisher?
  6. Some people have physical limitations that might diminish or eliminate their ability to use a fire extinguisher properly. Some people may find that an extinguisher is too heavy to handle or it may be too difficult for them to exert the necessary pressure to operate the extinguisher.

Sound Decision Making. Training. Maintenance. All are required to safely control a fire with an extinguisher. For this reason, the U.S. Fire Administration recommends that only those trained in the proper use and maintenance of fire extinguishers consider using them when appropriate. Contact your local fire department for information on fire extinguisher training in your area.

For more information on protecting your family from fire, visit Ready.gov/fires – and check out usfa.fema.gov for resources you can share about fire safety.

Fire Prevention Week: Reflect and Prepare

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During this 89th Fire Prevention Week (October 9-15, 2011), take a moment and reflect with me on how far we’ve come and where we need to go to protect our families and communities from fire. Before I discuss some of the changes in the firefighting and fire prevention landscape, the most important thing to remember is you can do your part to make your family safer from the risk of fire.

What You Can Do

The following tips will help you keep your family and homes safer, everyday:



  • Establish and practice an emergency escape plan that includes at least two exits out of your home and designate a meeting space outside of your home where first responders can easily see you.
  • Properly install and maintain smoke alarms on every level of the home, including the basement, outside sleeping areas, and inside each bedroom.
  • Consider installing a residential sprinkler in your home. Residential fire sprinklers protect lives and property by keeping fires small.
  • Know that the leading cause of fire and injury in the home is unattended cooking so stand by your pan when you are cooking, frying, grilling, broiling, or barbequing food.
  • If you live in an area prone to wildfire, keep the area around your home clear of combustible vegetation.
 

Learning Lessons From the Past

The threat from fire is ever present. Fire destroys lives and property, that’s why fire prevention is so important. One-hundred and forty years ago, the great Chicago fire consumed much of the city and claimed many lives. The fire fighting community soon recognized such disasters were preventable and society took action. In the process we learned to fight fires with more efficiency. From those destructive fires we learned to better control fires in blocks of buildings, then single buildings, then to just floors in a building, to now, when most fires are contained to the room of origin.

Because of this, society has saved vital resources, improved the urban landscape, and raised the level of safety through legislation, zoning ordinances, upgrading municipal fire defenses, expanding public water supplies, installing fire alarms and automatic fire sprinkler systems in commercial buildings, adopting building and fire codes, developing better building methods and materials, and teaching people how to prevent fire. Doing this was not easy, but it was a decision made by society that fire had to be controlled, and it took the efforts of everyone to make it happen.

New Challenges

While urban infernos are now very rare events, we face new fire-safety challenges. Today, our homes remain a place of great potential risk from fire. Not long ago our furnishings and belongings were mostly cotton, wool, and wood. Now plastic and synthetic materials make up many of the items we use every day and when burned produce greater quantities of deadly heat and toxic smoke compared to natural materials.

Fires in the modern home burn hotter and faster and have more potential fuel to keep the fire going than 50 years ago, presenting a greater challenge to occupant survival and for firefighters to control.

Fire Prevention Week provides the opportunity to reflect on fire-safety readiness and how we can better protect our families and communities from fire. To learn more about preparing your home and family for a fire, visit Ready.gov/fires. If you’re an emergency manager, educator, parent, community leader or concerned citizen, visit the U.S. Fire Administration website for more resources for sharing fire safety information.

Kicking Off Fire Prevention Week

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We often say it takes a team to prepare and be ready for disasters. This week, USFA and other members of the emergency management team will be providing tips to make our families and homes safer everyday so that we are better prepared for emergencies. This week is Fire Prevention Week, and I’m proud the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) is working with National Fire Protection Association and hundreds of other organizations to promote this year’s theme: It’s Fire Prevention Week! Protect Your Family from Fire!

I’d like to start by asking a simple question - do you know if your home is fire-safe? If you don’t know the answer, or don’t know where to start, a USFA partner, the Home Safety Council – part of Safe Kids Worldwide – created a home fire safety checklist that you can personalize and print out to take home and discuss with your family. Please share this information with your loved ones and take time to talk with them about how to lower the risk of home fires.

Through blog articles and outreach events across the country (including a Fire Prevention Week Education Fair that will be held in Washington, D.C.), we’ll be reaching out far and wide to share fire safety information. Look for more blog posts from me this week, and visit Ready.gov/fires to learn more about fire safety and prevention. If you’re an emergency manager, educator, parent, or community leader, visit www.usfa.fema.gov for more resources for sharing fire safety information.

Texas Wildfire Update 10: Volunteers Playing Key Role in Recovery

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One month ago this week, drought-stricken Texas’ severe wildfire season turned tragic when fires raged through neighborhoods in Bastrop and dozens of other communities around the state. Even as the fires burned, Texans were out in full force, supporting the neighbors whose homes and lives were in peril and the firefighters who were battling the blazes.

Photo of a boy and a man cleaning up debris
Bastrop, TX, October 1, 2011 --Volunteer assists with the clean-up efforts in Bastrop, TX. Groups from various faith-based programs are removing scrape metal from burned out homes and giving the homeowners the monies from the recycling fees.

In the midst of the fires, and in the weeks since, we have witnessed enormous generosity as Texans and other Americans have donated their time, their skills and their money, as well as food, clothing and household goods, to those whose lives have been shattered.

Volunteers are often the first in and the last to leave when a disaster strikes, and the Texas wildfires have been no exception. The armies of volunteers and organizations that have turned out to assist the Texans in need were here from the start, and many of them will continue to work for the long-term recovery of their communities well into the future.

While FEMA is perhaps better known as the distributor of federal dollars to help survivors get back on their feet after a disaster, we also strongly support volunteer efforts. A partnership agreement in Texas, for example, has brought 30 AmeriCorps member organizations to Bastrop County to help match volunteers with agencies that are serving disaster survivors.

And through our Voluntary Agency Liaisons, we also are working with the Texas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster and their partner organizations to meet survivors’ needs that remain after insurance or state, local or federal assistance options have been exhausted.

The entire community working toward recovery

Alongside the volunteers, in many instances, have been Texas businesses that have contributed to the recovery effort with donations of food and other supplies, or that have given employees paid time off to help out.

It takes the whole community to help Texans and their neighborhoods recover from the wildfires, and FEMA is just one member of the team. We do not and cannot work in a vacuum. The team begins at the state and local levels. The businesses and the volunteers who rushed in to help — and who continue to work in fire-affected communities day in and day out — are vital members of the team. They are an essential component of every disaster response and recovery effort.

As FEMA’s federal coordinating officer for the Texas recovery effort, I feel fortunate to have witnessed the generosity and kindness of spirit of the thousands of concerned Texans who are doing their part to help wildfire survivors heal.

For more information on how you can help survivors after a disaster, visit fema.gov/howtohelp. For Texas-specific information, visit TexasVOAD.org.

Texas Wildfire Update 9: Working to Meet Survivors’ Needs

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FEMA Community Relations and Individual Assistance specialists work with deaf and hard of hearing survivors at a Disaster Recovery Center in Bastrop, Texas.
Bastrop, Texas, September 17, 2011 -- FEMA Community Relations and Individual Assistance specialists work with deaf and hard of hearing survivors at a Disaster Recovery Center in Bastrop, Texas. FEMA is working with local, state and other federal agencies to provide assistance to residents affected by recent fires.

Just 11 days since President Obama signed a major disaster declaration for the Texas wildfires, state and federal assistance to survivors has topped $5 million. Getting money in the pockets of Texans who have been affected by these historic fires is vital, and we’re working closely with the state to rush assistance dollars to eligible survivors as quickly as possible.

Getting dollars to Texans in need, however, is just one of the ways we’re working with the state and partnering to reach out to survivors. Another top priority is ensuring that survivors get the information they need to begin the recovery process.

To that end, teams of state and FEMA community relations specialists continue to fan out through all 13 disaster-designated counties. They are going door-to-door to homes, schools, businesses, and community- and faith-based organizations to spread the word about the kinds of assistance available and to urge people to register with FEMA.

Specialists who speak Spanish or American Sign Language also are reaching out to survivors who require an interpreter. Furthermore, they are reporting to our state/FEMA Joint Field Office in Austin about any concerns survivors may have. Through face-to-face visits with survivors and visits to disaster-affected communities, we’re able to learn of specific needs in the communities, and thus respond more quickly.

We also are operating assistance centers with the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the U.S. Small Business Administration in affected counties. We’re pleased that nearly 1,800 visitors have stopped by these centers in Bastrop, Travis and Williamson counties. We will open more centers to reach survivors throughout the disaster area in the coming weeks.

In all, more than 200 FEMA professionals are now working side by side with our state and local partners to provide assistance to disaster survivors - and to get them the information they need when they need it.

Texas Wildfire Update 8: Texas/FEMA Funds in the Hands of Survivors

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 Kevin L. Hannes, FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer, inspects an emergency relief kit being given to survivors by the Red Cross at the Disaster Recovery Center. FEMA is working with local, state and other federal agencies to provide assistance to residents affected by recent fires.
Bastrop, TX, September 14, 2011 -- Kevin L. Hannes, FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer, inspects an emergency relief kit being given to survivors by the Red Cross at the Disaster Recovery Center. FEMA is working with local, state and other federal agencies to provide assistance to residents affected by recent fires.

As firefighters continue to battle wildfires in Texas, we continue to work with our state emergency management partners to ensure that impacted communities have the resources needed to recover. On September 9th, the President declared a disaster for the state of Texas, which made federal disaster funding available to families who experienced damage to their home – or lost their home entirely. Both FEMA and the State of Texas have provided funds to individuals and families to help them get back on their feet.

As of September 16, more than $2.6 million in disaster assistance has been approved by FEMA and the Texas Division of Emergency Management for eligible residents. This assistance includes:

  • Housing Needs Assistance, which can cover survivors’ expenses for temporary housing after a disaster, repairs or replacement for their primary residence and other housing-related needs.
  • Other Needs Assistance, which can include the repair or replacement of personal property damaged or destroyed during the disaster, transportation costs and medical and dental expenses.

And since my last blog post earlier this week, five more counties were added to the major disaster declaration. Now, survivors in Colorado, Gregg, Grimes, Houston, Leon, Montgomery, Travis and Walker, Waller and Williamson counties whose homes or businesses were damaged or destroyed as a result of the recent wildfires are eligible for federal and state disaster assistance.

As I’ve said before, we want to keep reminding those affected to register for assistance. You can register online at Disasterassistance.gov, via smart phone at m.fema.gov or by phone at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or (TTY) 1-800-462-7585. If you use 711-Relay or Video Relay Services (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. (local time) seven days a week until further notice.

Our commitment to the people of Texas continues – we will be here for as long as it takes, working hand in hand with our state partners at the Texas Division of Emergency Management to ensure that we are supporting disaster survivors and the affected communities.

Texas Wildfires Update 7: Continuing To Support Survivors

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Federal and state experts answer questions and help Bastrop County residents get registered for federal disaster assistance.
Bastrop County, TX, September 13, 2011 -- Federal and state experts answer questions and help Bastrop County residents get registered for federal disaster assistance.

We’ve been keeping you updated on what’s happening with the historic and devastating wildfires in Bastrop County, Texas. Now, FEMA and the state of Texas have opened a center to provide survivors a place to come to receive information and get their questions answered.

A Disaster Recovery Center opened Tuesday in Bastrop, hosting experts from FEMA, the state of Texas and the U.S. Small Business Administration. It’s a place where Bastrop County residents can talk to face to face with those experts and get their questions answered about disaster assistance, as well as get the registration process started.

FEMA and state community relations staff continue to blanket Bastrop County, spreading the word about applying for assistance through face to face contact. They have been visiting churches, businesses and public meeting places. They’ve even handed residents a phone to help them register on the spot.

In addition to opening the disaster recovery center and community relations outreach, we’ve also activated the Transitional Sheltering Assistance, at the request of the state. This allows Bastrop County wildfire evacuees, who cannot return to their homes, to stay in hotels or motels until more suitable housing accommodations are available.

We also want to re-emphasize one more message – register, register, register. If you are a resident of Bastrop County, we want you to register for federal disaster assistance. That’s the only way you are going to know if you qualify for federal aid. There are three easy ways to do that: 

  • Online at Disasterassistance.gov,
  • Via your smartphone’s internet browser at m.fema.gov or
  • By calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or (TTY) 1-800-462-7585. If you use 711-Relay or Video Relay Services (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. local time seven days a week until further notice.

Again, we’ll be here as long as it takes – working hand in hand with the state of Texas – to make sure the people who have been impacted by this disaster get what they need to rebuild their homes and communities.

Texas Wildfires Update 6: Helping Survivors Register For Assistance

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Yesterday, I posted an update about our community relations teams that are reaching out to wildfire survivors in Bastrop County, Texas about the importance of applying for federal assistance. This past weekend, a mobile unit was brought in to support wildfire survivors in hard-hit Bastrop County, Texas, where they can get help when registering for disaster assistance.

Wildfire survivors from Bastrop, Texas visit the FEMA Mobile Disaster Registration Intake Center
Bastrop County, TX, September 11, 2011 -- Wildfire survivors from Bastrop, Texas visit the FEMA Mobile Disaster Registration Intake Center that was set up to help people register for federal aid.

Representatives from the state and FEMA are using the intake center for the next few days to help get the ball rolling in the registration process and answer any and all questions about FEMA’s programs and the registration process. To date, more than 1,200 survivors in Bastrop County have applied for federal assistance. The Mobile Disaster Registration Intake Center has been temporarily set up in the town of Bastrop at the Grady Tuck Building at 104 Loop 150 West, until a longer-term Disaster Recovery Center opens.

State and FEMA staff work to open a Mobile Disaster Registration Intake Center in Bastrop County, Texas.
Bastrop County, TX, September 11, 2011 -- State and FEMA staff work to open a Mobile Disaster Registration Intake Center in Bastrop County, Texas. The temporary site is being used to help wildfire survivors register for federal aid.

In addition to helping applicants apply for assistance, applicants in Bastrop County are eligible for transitional sheltering assistance. Under this assistance, FEMA will pay for hotel rooms for disaster survivors in Bastrop County who are displaced and unable to return home, so that they can move out of shelters. As these survivors begin to receive federal assistance, they can start to look at longer term housing needs, such as apartment rentals, rebuilding their homes, etc.

I also want to remind everybody affected by these wildfires in Bastrop County – register for federal disaster assistance as soon as possible, because once you’re registered, we can begin to determine what type of federal assistance you are eligible to receive. The sooner you apply, the faster you will receive a reply and keep the recovery moving forward.

It’s a message we’ll keep on spreading in Bastrop County, as we continue to support those individuals and communities affected by these devastating fires. And if you were not affected by the wildfires in Bastrop County but know someone who was, please help us spread the message and encourage survivors to apply for assistance.

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