Why OSHA’s emergency response standard update concerns volunteer fire departments

February 14, 2024

OSHA proposes modernization of fire brigade standards

On December 21, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced plans to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) aimed at modernizing the agency’s “Fire Brigades” standard, which has not been updated since its initial publication in 1980.

This move by OSHA aims to bring the standards in line with the current demands and practices of fire safety and emergency response.

However, the proposed updates have raised concerns among volunteer fire departments across the nation.

The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), representing the interests of volunteer firefighters, has voiced significant apprehensions regarding the new requirements.

According to the NVFC, the proposed changes would impose stringent and, in many instances, insurmountable challenges for volunteer fire departments.

These include demanding physical exams, the acquisition of new equipment, and the development of emergency plans that surpass the staffing capabilities of numerous volunteer-operated departments.

Volunteer fire departments face potential hurdles

The complexity and potential impact of the proposed standard are substantial.

“This proposed updated standard would issue several new requirements that would be very burdensome, and in many cases impossible, for volunteer fire departments to comply with,” stated the NVFC.

Among the most contentious aspects are the proposed standards on physical exams and the need for new equipment, which could place a significant financial and operational strain on volunteer-based fire services.

Furthermore, the creation of comprehensive emergency plans that require staffing levels beyond the capacity of many volunteer departments highlights a critical challenge.

These requirements could potentially hinder the ability of these departments to respond effectively to emergencies, impacting community safety and the volunteer fire service’s sustainability.

Public engagement and response

In light of these concerns, the proposed update was published in the Federal Register on February 5, with a public comment period open until May 6.

The NVFC is actively preparing to file comments on the proposed rule and is urging members of the volunteer fire service community to participate in the process.

They encourage stakeholders to submit their comments and request a public hearing to discuss the proposed standard in depth.

Additionally, the OSHA Region 1 Training Institute Education Center conducted a webinar to provide an overview of the standard’s contents and discuss the potential impacts on volunteer firefighters.

This educational effort underscores the importance of informed participation and dialogue between OSHA, volunteer fire departments, and the broader fire service community.

FSJA comment

The proposed updates to OSHA’s “Fire Brigades” standard underscore a critical juncture for volunteer fire departments in the United States.

While the intent to modernize fire safety and emergency response standards is commendable, the practical implications for volunteer-based departments cannot be overlooked.

These departments play a crucial role in ensuring public safety, especially in rural and underserved areas where professional fire services may not be readily available.

The challenge lies in balancing the need for updated safety standards with the operational realities and constraints of volunteer fire services.

The ongoing public comment period represents a vital opportunity for stakeholders to express concerns, propose solutions, and shape a regulatory framework that supports the invaluable contributions of volunteer firefighters while advancing public safety objectives.

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