Fine Against Washington Fire Department For Understaffing Upheld

An OSHA fine against a Washington state fire department for understaffing has been upheld by the state’s Department of Labor and Industries. The Camas-Washougal Fire Department was cited for violating the state’s version of OSHA’s two-in two-out requirement at a house fire last March.

The first arriving engine was staffed with two firefighters, and the crew entered the burning dwelling without waiting for additional personnel where they successfully rescued a trapped victim. The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries fined the department $4,800 for the violation. The department appealed the fine but it was upheld.

Here is the language of the two-in two-out requirement from OSHA’S Respiratory Protection Standard, 29 CFR 1910.134:

1910.134(g)(3) Procedures for IDLH atmospheres. For all IDLH atmospheres, the employer shall ensure that:

(i) One employee or, when needed, more than one employee is located outside the IDLH atmosphere;

(ii) Visual, voice, or signal line communication is maintained between the employee(s) in the IDLH atmosphere and the employee(s) located outside the IDLH atmosphere;

(iii) The employee(s) located outside the IDLH atmosphere are trained and equipped to provide effective emergency rescue;

1910.134(g)(4) Procedures for interior structural firefighting. In addition to the requirements set forth under paragraph (g)(3), in interior structural fires, the employer shall ensure that:

(i) At least two employees enter the IDLH atmosphere and remain in visual or voice contact with one another at all times;

(ii) At least two employees are located outside the IDLH atmosphere; and

(iii) All employees engaged in interior structural firefighting use SCBAs.

Note 1 to paragraph (g): One of the two individuals located outside the IDLH atmosphere may be assigned to an additional role, such as incident commander in charge of the emergency or safety officer, so long as this individual is able to perform assistance or rescue activities without jeopardizing the safety or health of any firefighter working at the incident.

Note 2 to paragraph (g): Nothing in this section is meant to preclude firefighters from performing emergency rescue activities before an entire team has assembled.


Arguably, under Note 2 to paragraph (g), a citation would not be warranted. However, Washington state has adopted additional requirements that are more strict than the federal requirements. The following is the law in Washington State:

WAC 296-842-19005 Provide standby assistance in immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) conditions.

(1) Provide at least 2 standby employees outside the IDLH area.

Note: You need only one standby employee if the IDLH condition is well characterized, will remain stable AND you can show one employee can adequately do ALL of the following:

1. Monitor employees in the IDLH area;

2. Implement communication; and

3. Initiate rescue duties.

(2) Train and equip standby employees to provide effective emergency rescue. Equip them with:

(a) A pressure-demand SCBA or a pressure-demand air-line respirator with an auxiliary SCBA, for each standby employee;

(b) Appropriate retrieval equipment, when it would help with the effective rescue of the entrant, or an equivalent means of rescue.

(3) Make sure standby employees maintain visual, voice, or signal line communication with employees in the IDLH area.

(4) Make sure that in the event of an emergency:

(a) Standby employees notify you or your designee before they enter the IDLH area to provide emergency rescue;

(b) You provide necessary assistance when notified.


UPDATE: 10/5/2018 – A big thank you to Jay Phipps for pointing me to the following additional regulations in effect in Washington State, that are the specific grounds for the citations in this case:

WAC 296-305-05002 Fire suppression.

  1. Before beginning interior structural firefighting operations, the incident commander must evaluate the situation and risks to operating teams.
  2. The “initial stages” of an incident shall encompass the tasks undertaken by the first arriving company with only one crew assigned or operating in the hot zone.
  3. In the initial stages of an incident where only one crew is operating in the hot zone at a working structural fire, a minimum of four individuals shall be required, consisting of two individuals working as a crew in the hot zone and two individuals present outside the hot zone available for assistance or rescue of firefighters during emergency operations where entry into the hot zone is required.
  4. Initial attack operations shall be organized to ensure that if, on arrival at the emergency scene, responders find a known rescue situation where immediate action could prevent the loss of life or serious injury, such action shall only be permitted when no less than three personnel (2-in/1-out) are present and equipped to provide emergency assistance or rescue of the team entering the hot zone. No exception shall be allowed when there is no possibility to save lives or no “known” viable victims.
  5. Firefighters must not engage in interior structural firefighting in the absence of at least two standby firefighters (2-in/2-out) except as provided in WAC 296-305-05002(4).


Here is the full Washington standard for fire departments: WAC296-305 Firefighter OSHA Standards

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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