The National Fire Academy is facing another budget cut for 2013. While that’s bad news, there still is a lot of good news coming out of the academy. Last week, I had a lengthy discussion with NFA Superintendent Denis Onieal about the state of the academy, changes to its outreach programs, its ability to support to fire departments and — you guessed it — budget cuts.
First, the good news: The NFA trained more than 110,000 first responders in 2011. Some classes took 10 minutes, others 10 days. They were delivered in classrooms and online, at NFA’s Emmitsburg, Md., campus and across the country. Thanks to a partnership with state fire training agencies, every state in the nation has access to NFA training — a rarity among government agencies.
And the NFA has kept pace with changes in educational needs and delivery technologies. The academy took steps to incorporate new technology on campus a few years ago, and has conducted an in-depth review of curriculum and fire-service needs.
The bad news, however, is that the flailing economy has forced the NFA to cut many programs. The academy’s budget is $8.1 million for 2013, down from $8.4 million in 2012 and $9.8 million in 2011. That’s a 17.3% reduction in three years.
The 2013 budget reduction means the NFA will need to eliminate Wi-Fi services in its dormatories, resulting in a significant inconvenience to students.
Compounding the problem of decreasing budgets is rising costs. The cost to deliver one class on campus has increased 19% in the last five years, while one off-campus class has increased 66%, from $1,800 to $3,000.
The NFA’s online training programs reached more than 47,000 students last year, compared to 6,000 students in 2007. This increase was funded and staffed through reductions in curriculum development, course deliveries and assistance to training partners. That’s a 700% increase since 2007 without one appropriation.
Though realistic, Onieal prefers to focus on the positive. He mentioned that there are 25 new curriculum courses in the works, 11 of which are related to fire prevention.
“In many cases, fire prevention and training suffer the most in tough budget times,” he said. “These new training programs are designed to help those local departments [with everything] from model programs in community risk reduction to dealing with juvenile fire setters, from developing policy and legislation to engaging community support, from campus fire safety to working with people of different cultures.”
Bad news these days almost always revolves around a lack of money. The good news is there are still people looking for good in spite of the bad.
More from the interview with Denis Onieal will be featured in an upcoming print edition of FIRE CHIEF.