Fugate has served as a volunteer firefighter, a paramedic, as a Lieutenant with Alachua County Fire Rescue, and was the Emergency Manager for Alachua County in Florida. In 1997 he became the Chief of the Bureau of Preparedness and Response with the Florida DEM and in 2001 was appointed by Governor Jeb Bush to be the Director of the DEM.
Think Progress reported that Fugate spoke with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about a “high-level position” at FEMA as early as February 12.
Fugate was considered for the position in 2005 when FEMA Director Michael Brown was fired for the agency's poor response to hurricane Katrina, but according to published reports he was not interested because he was happy with his position in Florida. Another person considered at that time was Iowa emergency manager Ellen Gordon, but she turned it down because she thought the administration would not make FEMA a priority.
We are very pleased that Obama selected a person with significant emergency management experience. This will help move the agency away from the accusations that the agency has been a "turkey farm" during much of the last eight years.
Here is an excerpt of what Wildfire Today wrote on December 12 about the succession of FEMA directors since 1992:
When President Clinton came into office, the Director of FEMA was Wallace Stickney, whose previous job was a commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. In April, 1993, Clinton replaced Stickney with a person who actually had emergency management experience, James Lee Witt, who had been the head of the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services where he reorganized the state's emergency management process. During his tenure, FEMA made great progress and lost much of it's reputation as an inept organization.President George W. Bush decided to go back to the FEMA as a "political dumping ground, turkey farm" concept, first appointing Joe Allbaugh director in February, 2001. Allbaugh's main qualifications were that he had been Bush's campaign manager during Bush's campaigns for governor and president, working closely with Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, the three of them forming the "Iron Triangle". Allbaugh called the trio "the brain, the brawn and the bite", with himself as the brawn at 6 feet 4 inches and 275 pounds..Bush stayed with this theme, in 2003 replacing Allbaugh with Michael Brown, a long-time friend of Allbaugh. Brown had no emergency management experience. His job before becoming a lawyer for, and then Director, of FEMA, was serving as the Judges and Steward Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association. He was forced to resign from the horse group after numerous lawsuits were filed about disciplinary actions. Brown was chased out of FEMA in 2005 following the hurricane Katrina debacle, in spite of being praised by Bush: "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie".Bush redeemed himself somewhat in 2005 with the appointment of David Paulison, formerly the Fire Chief of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and head of the U.S. Fire Administration.