Hazmat, Mountain-Rescue Experience Gives FEMA Deputy Administrator Big-Picture View

Hazmat, Mountain-Rescue Experience Gives FEMA Deputy Administrator Big-Picture View

16 November 2010

published by firechief.com

USA — Tim Manning is FEMA’s deputy administrator for protection and national preparedness. He is responsible for preparing the nation to protect against, prevent, respond to and recover from acts of terrorism and natural disasters. Through the coordination of the National Preparedness Directorate, Grant Programs Directorate, Office of National Capital Region Coordination and National Continuity Programs Directorate, Manning oversees the agency’s readiness initiatives including national training, education, exercises, assessment and community-preparedness programs.

Manning is a former firefighter, EMT, rescue mountaineer, hazmat specialist and hydrologist, and brings almost two decades of diverse, frontline emergency management experience to the agency. Prior to joining FEMA, he served as the secretary of the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and homeland security advisor to Gov. Bill Richardson in 2007. In addition, he holds a bachelor’s of science in geology and is a graduate of the Executive Leaders Program at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School.

What is your experience as a firefighter?

I went to EMT school while I was in college, and I grew up around the fire service. My dad was a firefighter; my brother went into the fire service. When I moved to New Mexico in 1994, I started as a volunteer firefighter with Bernalillo County Fire Department. And in the 1990s, I worked as a volunteer for a small town in the mountains outside of Albuquerque.

What kind of fires did you fight?

The Bernalillo County Fire Department covers a larger, rural county. I worked in the south valley of Albuquerque. It was an urban fire department that did a lot of wildland firefighting. So, we did your traditional house and commercial fires, industrial and then all spring and summer wildland fires in the mountains of New Mexico.

You also were a rescue mountaineer. What type of search-and-rescue incidents did you address?

I worked with the Albuquerque Mountain Rescue team and eventually became the president and rescue chief. We did state- and region-wide, high-altitude technical mountain rescue work. We climbed into the high elevations above timer-line, did avalanche rescue … everything from multi-day, weeklong searches for lost hunters in the forest to fallen and injured climbers on 1,000-foot cliffs.

You also have hazmat training.

Yes. My full time job was as a hydrogeologist doing hazardous materials where I’d visit sites of accidents. In some cases, I would respond as a firefighter to an accident and then, weeks later, end up as a geologist and hazmat specialists working the cleanup and the impacts from that accident.

What skills learned from your volunteer service do you bring to your FEMA position?

The most important part of that experience is the people I’ve worked with, the other dedicated volunteer, rescue professionals that are around the country. I’ve learned there are extremely high performing people who give what little free time they have to their friends and neighbors, to bettering their community. There is a strength in our communities that here at FEMA, we have the opportunity to support. We can leverage and help build those communities to help make a stronger, more resilient America.

How will your wildfire experience help you in your FEMA position?

There is not a job in the fire service you can do by yourself. Working on an engine or truck or even a simple incident requires working within a team. In wildland firefighting, you see that on a larger scale. A large wildland fire may have hundreds or thousands of responders, and the incident may last weeks or months in some cases. There’s a magnitude you see in those events that you don’t see in any other kind of incident and time frames that are well beyond what you see in a house fire or even a large industrial accident. So having worked as part of a crew in the backcountry cutting fire line, then working in emergency management where our job is to support such responders, that really helps all of us in leadership understand the need of the response, of the incident commander and the individual firefighter.

What has your search-and-rescue experience taught you?

There’s a lot in common with wildland firefighting and backcountry mountain rescue, in the duration, in the complexity and the timeframes. But Administrator [Craig] Fugate … has said there’s a huge capability gap in the country. There are special skills, equipment and capabilities required. We could do a lot more to support our responders around the country with building that experience. [Sic] we can do more to provide the resources, the training and more funding to allow the fire service to do their job as safely as possible.

What would you say to fire departments that lack adequate funding?

The budget crisis has hit the fire service hard. We have grant programs to help the fire service stave off layoffs and rehire firefighters, like the SAFER grant. We’ve heard and lived the concerns of the fire service, and we reflected that in the way we changed the way grants work and guidance, what’s allowable. We will continue to do that. We will continue to listen closely to the fire service and do whatever we can do to help. We need to keep people on the engines, on the rescue apparatus and equipped to protect their communities. If we can’t do that, we can’t respond to the catastrophic disasters. So we have to do what we can to sustain and maintain the capabilities around the country.

Based on the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill response, how should fire chiefs plan for a corporate-run clean up?

We have been successful in the last 20 years in building an emergency management capability in our country that builds relationships between the fire service, law enforcement, public works — all of the people we work with every day. Chiefs need to preplan for an event at any large manufacturing or chemical plant in their jurisdiction, so they know the plant managers and the facilities. Facilities all have risk management plans, so it’s important that those are gathered. It also is important to get to know county and state homeland security coordinators and emergency managers. They are people responsible for working those multi-agency plans.

What should fire chiefs do to improve their skill sets to serve FEMA and its goals?

They can let us know what we can do to support them. FEMA is part of a very big team. Our job is to support the governors and the responders around the country. So I ask the chiefs, the fire service, to keep doing what they are doing — protecting their communities.

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