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  4. Secretary Mayorkas Delivers Remarks at Inaugural World Fire Congress Closing Ceremony

Secretary Mayorkas Delivers Remarks at Inaugural World Fire Congress Closing Ceremony

Release Date: May 9, 2024

Secretary Mayorkas delivered the following remarks at the closing, charter signing ceremony of the inaugural World Fire Congress in Washington, DC.

Good evening.

The poet John Saxe once wrote that, if the mythical Greek figure Prometheus “was worthy of the wrath of heaven for kindling the first fire upon earth, then how all the gods must honor those who make it their professional business to put it out.”

The work you have done here at the Inaugural World Fire Congress is worthy of that honor.

You came here to Washington, and you lent your time, expertise, and lived experience in service of all the world’s firefighters. You built new partnerships and friendships with one another; you shared tactics and technological advances; you identified new ways to strengthen the support systems that firefighters need and deserve. You studied the evolving threat environment firefighters everywhere face, discussed ways to mitigate the dangers posed, and began the process of developing more effective responses to them. All this, and much more.

What you did here these past few days, and the many advances to the work of firefighting and fire prevention that will grow from it in the years ahead, will save lives – of first responders, and of all those who depend on them. I hope that you are all very proud.

There are many people to whom this new Congress and the success of this inaugural meeting is owed, but two exceptional leaders were particularly instrumental in convening the World Fire Congress and ensuring its impact: our extraordinary United States Fire Administrator, Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell, and her co-Chair, the President of the National Fire Chiefs Council of the United Kingdom, Mark Hardingham.

Thank you both, and thank you for the honor of joining you this evening.

In a few moments, all of you, representing 56 countries, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, will formally sign the World Fire Congress’ Statement of Founding Principles and Objectives. Doing so is a recognition of the obligation that we have to the world’s firefighters: to be there for all of them, as they have been there for all of us. To make sure every first responder has the support, training, and resources they need to do their critical job, especially as the nature of that job continuously and dramatically evolves.

We all know certain facts. Wildfires are becoming more frequent and more destructive in more places – a forest blaze in Greece last summer was the largest wildfire ever recorded across the European Union; record heat in Algeria last summer sparked 97 separate wildfires that killed more than 30 people; the fire that devastated the Hawaiian island of Maui last summer was the deadliest our country has faced in over 100 years. As we speak, firefighters in Nepal and Scotland are combatting historic blazes. Our thoughts are with them this evening.

New technologies, meanwhile, like lithium-ion batteries, are introducing new risks. Just a few weeks ago, firefighters in New South Wales, Australia were called to four different lithium-ion battery fires in a 24-hour period: an electric vehicle charging station, a garden hedger, a loose battery in a garbage truck, and the battery on an electric bike all exploded, hospitalizing at least one man and forcing the evacuation of a 10-story apartment block.

Structure fires, especially in homes and buildings not built to modern fire safety standards, still kill far too many people, and devastate exponentially more: on just one day this past February, high-rise apartment complex fires in Chicago, Illinois, and Valencia, Spain, killed nine people and hospitalized seven, including a baby.

All this, on top of the growing number of firefighters who need treatment for fire-related cancers; who are struggling with the mental health impacts of the job; and who continue be both overworked and underpaid as governments across the world struggle to recruit the next generation of firefighters and retain this generation. The toll of this noble work on first responders is steep, as it is on their loved ones.

The World Fire Congress, in the years to come, can, and must, be a forum where we consistently and constructively identify and implement solutions to all of these challenges.

The United States and the Department of Homeland Security know well the difference such cooperation can make. Our U.S. Fire Administration has already worked to coalesce international experts to develop a built-environment fire risk index. Last month, we took part in a lithium-ion battery symposium hosted by our Singaporean counterparts, to help streamline battery fire prevention research. In March, we organized the Wildland Urban Interface Symposium in Athens, Greece, to help support our firefighting partners in the Mediterranean. And, we have long worked with our counterparts in the U.K. to share firefighting best practices, research insights, and new technology.

We are eager, and very proud, to now help facilitate similar collaboration among all of our countries, and with our multilateral and non-governmental partners, through this new World Fire Congress.

Fires are far from the only shared, global threat to the safety and security of our people. Productive partnerships can help each of our nations confront the challenges posed by earthquakes, floods, extreme heat and cold, droughts, tsunamis, and other threats both old and emerging – and do so more quickly, more efficiently, more innovatively, and more comprehensively.

Partnerships can help us each fulfill the most fundamental responsibility of every government: to safeguard its homeland and its people. Let us move forward together.

Thank you all very much for being here on behalf of your countries, and for your commitment to this important work. And thank you for all that you do, every day, to keep our world safe.

Thank you.


Last Updated: 05/10/2024
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