NVFC testifies before House Committee on OSHA’s proposed emergency response standard

June 20, 2024

“If adopted as written, the standard would be economically infeasible for volunteer fire departments to comply with” – NVFC

On June 4, the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) testified before the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology regarding the impact of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) proposed Emergency Response Standard on volunteer fire departments, as reported by the National Volunteer Fire Council.

The OSHA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on February 5 to replace their Fire Brigade Standard with the proposed Emergency Response Standard.

While the proposed standard has positive aspects, it introduces multiple new requirements that could be burdensome and, in many cases, impossible for volunteer fire departments to comply with.

Witnesses and their testimony

The hearing included four witnesses, two representing career firefighters and two representing volunteer firefighters.

Joe Maruca, NVFC Massachusetts director, and Dave Denniston, second vice president of the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York, testified on behalf of the volunteer fire service.

In his testimony, Maruca commended OSHA’s efforts to promote firefighter safety through the proposed standard but highlighted that, if adopted as written, it would be economically infeasible for volunteer fire departments to comply with, potentially causing many to shut down.

He noted that this could compromise the safety and emergency response capabilities of many small and rural communities.

Key issues with the proposed standard

Maruca outlined several problematic factors, including the economic infeasibility of compliance, the incorporation of industry consensus standards by reference, numerous ambiguities regarding volunteer coverage, lack of personnel expertise and availability for implementation, and an unrealistic timeline for compliance.

He stated: “For these reasons, the NVFC would like OSHA to exempt volunteer firefighters from this proposed standard and work with the organization on a better way to ensure volunteer firefighter safety.”

Economic and logistical challenges

The NVFC’s concerns about the proposed standard’s economic impact were underscored by data showing that small volunteer fire departments operate on minimal budgets, often funded through local taxes, fundraising events, and grants.

Many departments already struggle to afford up-to-date equipment, training, and apparatus.

The NVFC argued that the financial and staffing demands of the proposed standard could exacerbate these challenges, leading to further difficulties in recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters.

FSJA Comment

The National Volunteer Fire Council’s testimony highlights critical challenges faced by volunteer fire departments regarding OSHA’s proposed Emergency Response Standard.

The NVFC’s concerns about economic feasibility and operational practicality underscore the unique position of volunteer fire departments, which are vital to many small and rural communities across the United States.

Their reliance on limited local funding and volunteer staff makes it essential for regulatory standards to be adaptable to their specific needs and capacities.

The NVFC’s call for exemption and collaboration with OSHA aims to ensure that safety standards are both effective and achievable, safeguarding not only the firefighters but also the communities they serve.

This situation emphasizes the need for a balanced approach in policy-making that considers the diverse circumstances of emergency response organizations nationwide.

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