STATEMENT OF MAUREEN FINNERTY, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR PARK OPERATIONS AND EDUCATION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE, REGARDING THE GAO REPORT ON NPS STRUCTURAL FIRE SAFETY RESPONSIBILITIES.

JULY 19, 2000


Thank you for the opportunity to discuss with you the recently issued report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) on the National Park Service structural fire safety program. This report, entitled "Park Service: Agency Is Not Meeting Its Structural Fire Safety Responsibilities" (GAO/RCED-00-154), analyzes the National Park Service (NPS) efforts to prevent and respond to fires in the many structures in the national park system.

As Don Barry, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, indicated in a letter to GAO dated May 17, 2000, overall, we found that the report accurately reflects the general status of issues in the National Park Service structural fire program. This report offers us an opportunity to begin the development of a comprehensive structural fire program. The implementation of these recommendations will benefit park visitors and the program in general.

Background:

The National Park Service has more than 20,000 buildings located in parks throughout the United States and we have the responsibility of protecting these buildings, and the people using them, from fire. Fire safety and the protection of people and property is essential to the mission of the National Park Service and is a significant component of our overall safety program.

We have been addressing structural fire issues for many years, but not until recently have we begun to develop a comprehensive structural fire program. Until 1987 most structural fire issues were addressed by individual parks. In 1987 the first National Park Service guidelines were developed to provide direction in addressing the complex issue of structural fire.

Our goal is to develop a comprehensive structural fire program based on preventing fires through engineering, education, and developing and maintaining fire departments and brigades in areas where we are unable to address the structural fire requirements through other means.

Prior to the GAO audit we had taken steps to address structural fire issues. These steps included:

In the spring of 1999 Congress requested, and the National Park Service collected, compiled and provided, information on past and current fire inspections. In November 1999 the GAO audit of National Park Service structural safety was initiated. The report concluded that the National Park Service is not meeting its structural fire safety responsibilities.

Steps we are taking:

The audit consisted of using "seven key elements of a structural fire program" to evaluate the program in six park units. The seven key elements are requirements of a comprehensive structural fire program and were reviewed and agreed to by the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. Fire Administration, Department of Energy and General Services Administration. The GAO audit involved site visits to six National Park Service units. In the review of the parks none met the seven program requirements. I will go over each element and the steps that we are taking to implement the element on a servicewide basis.

  1. Consistent funding sufficient to support an effective structural fire safety effort.
  2. Consistent funding is necessary to implement a comprehensive structural fire program. We have begun to identify the funding needs to address current and projected deficiencies within existing or likely funding levels. Estimates to address all parks and buildings must be based on information collected during building inspections and park analysis. We anticipate that the estimates for this more detailed tier of work will be proposed to support our fiscal year 2002 budget proposal.

  3. A structural fire plan that includes overview and key elements.

Completion of the NPS Director’s Order 58, Structural Fire, and the corresponding reference manual will establish the minimum structural fire safety requirements for the National Park Service. The Director’s Order has been drafted and circulated for agency and public review. The comment period ended on June 26, 2000 and comments are being evaluated and incorporated into the draft. When the comments and recommendations have been incorporated, the Order will be sent forward for the Director’s review and approval. A portion of the Director’s Order requires each park to develop structural fire plans.

  1. A defined building inspection program that identifies the scope and methodology including standards, frequency, and personnel.
  2. We have allocated funding to implement our fire inspection and analysis system. Inspections and analysis will include high-risk buildings including, but not limited to, overnight accommodations, single and multiple person dwellings, places of assembly, and historic structures. This system, based on National Fire Protection Association standards, will identify safety needs and deficiencies and is being adopted as the standard for the National Park Service. Inspection and analysis of park buildings and infrastructure will be an ongoing process and three National Park Service employees have been assigned to the Structural Fire Program Manager to assist in accomplishing this task. It is our goal to develop a structural fire program that includes sufficiently trained and qualified personnel to conduct these fire inspections.

  3. An incident reporting system including criteria, reporting methodology and analysis.
  4. Incident reporting provides the foundation of information necessary to identify deficiencies, and take corrective action. Therefore, collecting specific and reliable information is crucial. A standardized NPS structural fire incident report has been designed based on nationally accepted structural fire reporting standards. Service-wide implementation of the report is waiting for the development of a mechanism for individual parks to input the information to a centralized location.

  5. The installation and maintenance of fire prevention, detection, and suppression systems.

The Director’s Order adopts National Fire Protection Association codes and standards. These codes and standards are nationally recognized as minimum requirements for addressing structural fire safety. They include standards for installation and maintenance of fire alarms and detection systems.

The implementation of the inspection and analysis system is the first step in identifying fire safety deficiencies and what is required to correct them. A contract is currently being developed to conduct these inspections using qualified structural fire safety personnel. The information generated from the inspections and analysis will then be used to correct deficiencies that can be addressed immediately and develop plans for correcting more complex deficiencies.

Currently, we have 46 structural fire safety related projects that have been identified in PMIS and scheduled for implementation over the next five years. Included in these projects are the installation of fire suppression and fire alarm systems and upgrading fire hydrants. The cost for these projects is more than $6.6 million.

6. Trained and qualified personnel.

Structural Fire is a broad and complex issue. To develop an effective program will require establishing a foundation of personnel as well as adequate funding. The program involves a wide variety of elements and issues including building design, building construction, installing and maintaining detection and suppression systems in buildings, regular inspections of buildings and systems, training, establishing and maintaining fire agreements, and in some cases developing, maintaining and operating a fire-fighting force.

To help us implement an effective program we will reallocate existing resources to support structural fire related positions. The position functions include program management, fire prevention, fire training, and program support. In addition, we are establishing structural fire management officer positions in each of our seven regional offices. We intend to accelerate our efforts by reallocating or reprogramming funds to fill the positions in fiscal year 2001. These positions will be responsible for implementing the structural fire management program and providing parks with structural fire expertise.

We will also reallocate funds for fire prevention and fire protection training. The U.S. Fire Administration, National Fire Academy, will be the main provider for fire prevention classes. Fire suppression training will be provided by contractors and outside agencies as we develop the capabilities within the agency.

We are working with the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) to develop NPS structural fire brigade standardized training materials, lesson plans, and instructor guides. A structural fire for superintendents class is being developed. This class will provide superintendents with the background, program requirements and tools to effectively address structural fire at the park level.

Director’s Order 58 and the corresponding reference manual identify minimum training standards for both fire prevention and fire suppression. We have collected employee structural fire training records and entered them into a database so we can use the information to identify employee training levels.

  1. Fire response capability including the necessary equipment and trained and qualified personnel.

Fire departments and fire brigades are complex and costly to operate. If a park requires a fire brigade or fire department because of location or lack of available local resources, it must meet national fire standards. Brigades and fire departments will be evaluated through the inspection/analysis system. This will identify personnel, equipment, training and funding requirements.

Currently, in approximately 13% of NPS areas, the structural fire response is accomplished by NPS fire brigades. These fire brigades are similar to volunteer fire departments in that they rely on persons working and or living in the area to work as firefighters. These people are not full-time firefighters but are trained as firefighters and respond when needed. We rely on fire brigades in parks that require the ability to respond to structural fire incidents and are located in areas that do not have structural fire fighting resources available from adjacent communities. In parks that are located close to communities that can provide structural fire suppression services, we encourage development of formal agreements for fire suppression services. We do not want to increase the number of NPS fire brigades unless our park analysis shows that is the only viable option.

Conclusion:

We have responded to the individual park deficiencies that were identified during the General Accounting Office audit and we are undertaking the development of a comprehensive structural fire program based on national fire standards. The standards are clear and they will be used to build a strong foundation for the program.

Only by implementing an agencywide building inspection and analysis program will we be able to identify the scope of our structural fire deficiencies. With this information we will be able to estimate the financial requirements necessary to meet our fire safety responsibilities.

This concludes my statement. I will be happy to respond to any questions that you may have.