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FASNY pushes back on OSHA’s proposed changes to Fire Brigades Standard

The Firefighters Association of the State of New York president said the safety-focused changes will “dramatically change the face of the fire service”


By FireRescue1 Staff

WASHINGTON — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed plans to significantly update a major fire service standard, but one fire service organization is voicing concerns about the far-reaching impact of the changes.

According to OSHA, as part of the changes to the Fire Brigades Standard (29 CFR 1910.156), which was first published in 1980, the newly proposed “Emergency Response Standard” will expand safety and health protections for emergency responders, including firefighters, EMS providers and technical search and rescue workers.

An OSHA press release provides background:

“Currently, OSHA regulations protect emergency responders’ safety and health in a patchwork of decades-old, hazard-specific standards. Not designed as comprehensive emergency response standards, they fail to address the full range of job hazards faced by today’s emergency responders. [The new] standard updates safety and health protections in line with national consensus standards for a broad range of workers exposed to hazards that arise during and after fires and other emergencies. The proposal will include major changes for protective clothing and equipment and significant improvements in safety and health practices that the industry generally accepts as standard procedures.”

OSHA previously noted President Biden’s support, stating the president is “committed to protecting our emergency responders, the same way they protect us every day – and this proposed rule is a critical step to ensure their safety.”

On Thursday, the president of the Firefighters Association of the State of New York (FASNY), Edward Tase Jr., released a statement to members with his strong reservations about the proposed changes, noting that the new standard, if approved, “will dramatically change the face of the fire service in New York and across the nation”:

“While the goal of the new rule is to further protect the safety of emergency responders, it was crafted in a vacuum and does not reflect the challenges that emergency response agencies face in the real world. While the fire service fully agrees that responder safety is of paramount importance, that goal must be balanced with the abilities and resources of the agencies responsible for those individuals. After careful review, it is apparent that many of the changes and new requirements will negatively impact already struggling response agencies. In fact, the new standard could hamper recruitment and retention efforts and even cause many current firefighters to leave the service. Despite its bureaucratic ‘good intentions’, this new rule could actually decrease firefighter health and safety.”

The statement goes on to question the reliability of some of the data and theories used to produce the proposal; underscore the costliness of implementing several changes; and highlight the impact of integrating several NFPA standards, specifically that anyplace the NFPA standard says “shall” or “must,” the AHJ would be responsible to adhere to them.

“Our concern here is not merely that they are unfunded mandates. It is the fact that it will place increased liability on organizations especially if they suffer a firefighter injury or death,” Tase writes. “The unattainable nature of this proposed standard virtually ensures fines and litigation at a level we have never seen.”

In his column “OSHA takes action to limit emergency responder injuries and fatalities,” Michael Fraley shares an overview of some proposed rule changes:

  • Emergency response plan (ERP). Agencies will be required to have a written program to ensure they are prepared to respond to, and operate safely in, the emergency and non-emergency situations that are likely to occur in their primary response area.
  • Vulnerability assessment of hazards. Agencies must assess their primary response area to identify the types calls to which they may respond. Resources in the plan must be matched to these hazards.
  • ERP tiers, types and levels. The agency must identify the various tiers, types and levels of responders covered by the ERP.
  • Team involvement with the plan. The ERP should be developed, implemented, reviewed and updated with involvement from team members.
  • Medical and physical requirements. The proposed standard specifies that responders will be required to meet medical and physical requirements based on their type and level of service.
  • Behavioral health and wellness resources. Agencies would be required to offer team members services that include diagnostic assessment, short-term counseling, crisis intervention and referral to additional resources.
  • Health and fitness program. Team members should have access to health and fitness programs that help them maintain fitness for duty and to prevent work-related illness.
  • Training program. A comprehensive training program must be in place to include initial and ongoing training as well as skills checks at appropriate intervals.
  • Facility safety. The section details the need to provide adequate spaces to decontaminate, maintain and store PPE and other equipment separate from living quarters. It also lists requirements for fire alarms, sprinkler systems, carbon monoxide detectors and equipment to prevent vehicle exhaust from entering sleeping and living areas.
  • PPE. Significant attention is paid to the provision of PPE to responders as well as training, testing, maintenance, cleaning and disposal of the supplies and equipment.
  • Vehicle safety. OSHA proposes broad-reaching standards related to maintenance, inspection and testing of vehicles. The standards also outline important benchmarks in training and operation of vehicles, and the policies that should be in place to cover both.
  • Incident Management System. OSHA will expect ERPs to contain language about implementation, training and use of the Incident Management System.

The proposed changes have been published in the Federal Register and are currently in a 90-day comment period that concludes on May 6. Comments are accepted from anyone in the general public, but as Fraley notes, it will be especially important for all stakeholders in fire and EMS to review the document and provide input.

Submit feedback to OSHA here.