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History of the United States Fire Administration

Browse primary sources regarding USFA history.

Timeline for the Creation of USFA

Beginnings of the U.S. Fire Administration

The National Fire Prevention and Control Administration was created on October 29, 1974, when President Ford signed the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974. The Act was the product of a legislative evolution; 15 years earlier the 1959 report of the Committee on Fire Research of the National Research Council recommended a “national program emphasizing those areas not adequately covered by current efforts of military and civil agencies.”

But the national fire problem became a concern even earlier than that.

In 1947, President Harry Truman called a three-day conference to discuss a plan to reduce losses from fire in the United States. A driving force behind the conference was the fire-related tragedies that occurred the prior year at the Winecoff  and La Salle hotels, which killed 180 people all told. Conference participants recommended that fire departments focus on the three E’s — engineering, enforcement and education — to prevent fire loss.

A 1966 report, the Wingspread Conference on Fire Service Administration, Education and Research: “Statements of National Significance to the Fire Problem in the United States,” stated that the traditional concept of fire protection being strictly a local responsibility needed to be re-examined. This and a series of related issues occurring nationally during that time period, including the Apollo Spacecraft Fire in 1967 and expansion of the Flammability Fabrics Act of 1953, gave increased momentum to the Congress and President to enact new fire safety legislation.

In May 1968, the Department of Commerce was given a primary mission in fire research and safety when the 90th Congress passed, and President Johnson signed, the Fire Research and Safety Act of 1968. The Act established within the Department's National Bureau of Standards, a fire research and safety center. It also directed the establishment of a National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control. Congress directed the Commission to “undertake a comprehensive study and investigation to determine measures for reducing the destructive effects of fire throughout the country.”

The Commission, appointed by President Nixon in 1971 and chaired by Professor Richard E. Bland of Pennsylvania State University, conducted two years of intensive study. The Commission sent out survey questionnaires to 27,000 fire departments nationwide, reviewed position papers from prominent fire organizations, interviewed more than 92 witnesses, and held five public hearings around the country including Washington, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Finally on May 4, 1973, it transmitted its findings and 90 recommendations to the President. Those recommendations were contained in a report called America Burning This report formed the framework for Congressional action in drafting the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974, creating the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration (NFPCA).

In 1978, Congress changed the name of NFPCA to USFA (P.L. 95-422), and in 1979, President Carter’s Reorganization Plan No. 3 placed the USFA within the newly created Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Also in 1979, the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland was opened, offering courses and training to fire service personnel and other persons engaged in fire prevention and control.