IAFF calls for increased investment in fire fighter safety

June 7, 2024

Fire fighter safety standards to be updated by OSHA

The nation’s approach to fire fighter safety has failed over the last 40 years, and new federal standards must require more investment in staffing, training, and other resources to keep fire fighters safe, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) told Congress.

“Our reliance on consensus standards with no teeth and the goodwill of city administrators is literally killing us.

“Unlike nearly every other American industry, we have almost no legally enforceable workplace protections,” Evan Davis, IAFF Director of Government Affairs, said in testimony on June 4 before the Emergency Management and Technology Subcommittee of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Proposed updates to OSHA standards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is gathering comments from fire safety stakeholders as it proposes a broad update to workplace protections for fire fighters and other emergency service personnel, the first significant revision in over 40 years.

The proposed standards would completely revamp the Fire Brigades Standard, to be renamed the Emergency Response Standard.

The proposal calls for comprehensive changes to emergency response, including staffing, training, apparatus readiness, and protective clothing and equipment.

Reactions from IAFF and fire safety leaders

The International has lobbied for revisions to the Fire Brigades Standard, which General President Edward Kelly said would reshape fire fighter safety and save lives.

“Our job will never stop being dangerous, but there are steps we can take to make it safer.

“This update is long overdue, and the Biden Administration agrees,” Kelly said in an email to affiliate leaders.

Grant Walker, president of the Prince Georges County Professional Fire Fighters, emphasized the need for enforceable standards: “Too often, our fire fighters rely on the community’s or elected officials’ goodwill to maintain or update facilities, apparatus, or personal protective equipment.

“Our nation’s fire fighters need a standard to point to, a place to go when the status quo is not safe.”

Challenges for volunteer fire departments

Organizations representing volunteer fire fighters warned the subcommittee that fire departments relying on volunteers, particularly in smaller communities, would struggle to comply with the proposed new standards.

“If adopted as written, this proposal would be economically infeasible for most volunteer fire departments to implement and cause many volunteer fire departments to shut down,” said Chief Joseph Maruca, Director of the National Volunteer Fire Council and Former Fire Chief of the West Barnstable, Mass., Fire Department.

Maruca noted that implementing the new standards would be especially difficult due to recent declines in funding for FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant programs.

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