OSHA Proposes Major Changes to Regulations for the Fire Service

The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has unveiled a proposed overhaul of 29 CFR 1910.156, the Fire Brigade Standard. It is seeking input from the public prior to implementing the changes. Enacted in 1980 and not updated since, the Fire Brigade Standard has had a rather minimal impact on the fire service up to this point.

That is about to change if the proposed changes to 1910.156 go into effect following the comment period that ends May 6, 2024.

To begin with, 1910.156 would no longer be titled Fire Brigades. Its new name would be: Emergency Response. The proposed changes turn OSHA heavily toward NFPA standards, with 21 standards being incorporated in whole or in part, and 14 other standards contributing to the new requirements to varying degrees. The Standards that are incorporated in whole or in part are:

  1. NFPA 1001, Standard for Structural Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications, 2019 ed.
  2. NFPA 1002, Standard for Fire Apparatus Driver/Operator Professional Qualifications, 2017 ed.
  3. NFPA 1005, Standard for Professional Qualifications for Marine Fire Fighting for Land-Based Fire Fighters, 2019 ed.
  4. NFPA 1006, Standard for Technical Rescue Personnel Professional Qualifications, 2021 ed.
  5. NFPA 1021, Standard for Fire Officer Professional Qualifications, 2020 ed.
  6. NFPA 1081, Standard for Facility Fire Brigade Member Professional Qualifications, 2018 ed.
  7. NFPA 1140, Standard for Wildland Fire Protection, 2022 ed.
  8. NFPA 1407, Standard for Training Fire Service Rapid Intervention Crews, 2020 ed.
  9. NFPA 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments, 2022 ed.
  10. NFPA 1910, Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Refurbishment, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Emergency Vehicles and Marine Firefighting Vessels, 2024 ed.
  11. NFPA 1951, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Technical Rescue Incidents, 2020 ed.
  12. NFPA 1952, Standard on Surface Water Operations Protective Clothing and Equipment, 2021 ed.
  13. NFPA 1953, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Contaminated Water Diving, 2021 ed.
  14. NFPA 1971, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, 2018 ed.
  15. NFPA 1977, Standard on Protective Clothing and Equipment for Wildland Fire Fighting and Urban Interface Fire Fighting, 2022 ed.
  16. NFPA 1981, Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services, 2019 ed.
  17. NFPA 1982, Standard on Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS), 2018 ed.
  18. NFPA 1984, Standards on Respirators for Wildland Fire-Fighting Operations and Wildland Urban Interface Operations, 2022 ed.
  19. NFPA 1986, Standard on Respiratory Protection Equipment for Tactical and Technical Operations, 2023 ed.
  20. NFPA 1987, Standard on Combination Unit Respirator Systems for Tactical and Technical Operations, 2023 ed.
  21. NFPA 1999, Standard on Protective Clothing and Ensembles for Emergency Medical Operations, 2018 ed.

The standards that influenced the update and according to OSHA contain provisions that will be consistent with the new regulations despite not being formally incorporated include:

  1. NFPA 10, Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers, 2022 ed.
  2. NFPA 600, Standard on Facility Fire Brigades, 2020 ed.
  3. NFPA 1201, Standard for Providing Fire and Emergency Services to the Public, 2020 ed.
  4. NFPA 1451, Standard for a Fire and Emergency Service Vehicle Operations Training Program, 2018 ed.
  5. NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety, Health, and Wellness Program, 2021 ed.
  6. NFPA 1521, Standard for Fire Department Safety Officer Professional Qualifications, 2020 ed.
  7. NFPA 1561, Standard on Emergency Services Incident Management System and Command Safety, 2020 ed.
  8. NFPA 1581, Standard on Fire Department Infection Control Program, 2022 ed.
  9. NFPA 1660, Standard for Emergency, Continuity, and Crisis Management: Preparedness, Response, and Recovery, 2024 ed.
  10. NFPA 1700, Guide for Structural Fire Fighting, 2021 ed.
  11. NFPA 1710, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments, 2020 ed.
  12. NFPA 1720, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments, 2020 ed.
  13. NFPA 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, 2020 ed.
  14. NFPA 2500, Standard for Operations and Training for Technical Search and Rescue Incidents and Life Safety Rope and Equipment for Emergency Services, 2022 ed.

The changes include removing a very important provision – the two-in two-out requirement for structural firefighters – that is currently in 1910.134, the Respiratory Protection Standard, and incorporating it into the revised 1910.156. That provision, which changed OSHA’s traditional one-out standard applicable to general industry, to the current two-in-two-out for structural firefighters, was precedent setting when adopted in 1998.

The proposed changes are accessible here. The actual language of the new edition appears at the very end of this very very very long document. Plan on several hours of reading to get to the proposed 1910.156 (or you can scroll down to the end).

OSHA is seeking commentary on the proposals. The comment period closes on May 6, 2024. While we certainly appreciate any comments you leave here on Fire Law Blog – those thoughts will not make a measurable difference with regard to OSHA’s plans. Please submit your comments to OSHA. Here are the instructions to do so:

  • You may submit comments and attachments, identified by Docket No. OSHA-2007-0073, electronically at http://www.regulations.gov, which is the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal.

If you are wondering whether the proposed changes impact you and your department, here is a quote from OSHA:

  • Entities Not Covered by the Proposed Rule
  • Federal OSHA does not cover public ESOs [Emergency Services Organizations] in States without OSHA-approved State Plans. Therefore, for the PEA [Preliminary Economic Analysis], public ESOs and responders in States without OSHA-approved State Plans are excluded from the analysis. The following states and territories have State Plans: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, U.S. Virgin Islands, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. The remaining states and territories that are assumed to classify volunteers as covered employees include Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Washington, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Seven of these–Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and the Virgin Islands–only cover public sector employees.

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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