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Subcommittee Chairman D’Esposito Delivers Opening Statement In Hearing on OSHA Rulemaking

June 4, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology Chairman Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY) delivered the following opening statement in a hearing with stakeholder perspectives on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) proposed rule to replace the Fire Brigades standard in order to provide workplace protections for all personnel who respond to emergencies as part of their regular duties.


As prepared for delivery:

Welcome to our witnesses. Thank you all for testifying before the Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology. Thank you for your public service and for providing emergency response services in your respective communities. We look forward to hearing your diverse perspectives on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s proposed rule to update the Fire Brigades standard and its potential impact on firefighters throughout the nation.

As the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology and former Chief of the Island Park Fire Department, I know first-hand that fire brigades selflessly put the safety of their communities first despite experiencing a multitude of risks while serving on the job. It is important that we mitigate any unnecessary risks posed against our Nation’s firefighters. However, we must find a balanced approach that promotes firefighter safety and prevents regulatory burdens that ultimately may make communities less safe.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 gave OSHA the authority to create, modify, or revoke work standards for private sector employers, the U.S. Postal Service, and the federal government.While state and local fire departments are excluded from OSHA enforcement if their state does not have an OSHA-approved plan in place, there are 27 states whose state and local fire departments are bound by OSHA’s standard for fire brigades. The Fire Brigades standard was created in 1980 to require firefighting training, education, and protective gear for fire departments. However, there have been no significant updates to the rule since it was originally created in 1980.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 highlighted the need for improved coordination in emergency preparedness and response and for updated safety standards for fire brigades. Today we have a better understanding of the risks firefighters have experienced over the years, and it’s common sense to consider updating the standard.

Earlier this year, this subcommittee held a hearing to examine lithium-ion battery fires and the unique challenges posed to fire departments. It makes sense that as threats evolve, safety standards should be updated to protect our nation’s first responders. That’s why in 2007, OSHA requested information from emergency responders on actions OSHA should take to improve emergency response and preparedness across the nation.

Since then, OSHA has continued to take efforts to update the safety regulations for fire brigades; and this February, OSHA proposed a new rule for an Emergency Response Standard. However, the proposed standard is wider in scope and would apply not just to firefighting, but also to emergency medical services and technical search and rescue. Among the requirements, OSHA’s proposed rule would require new written emergency response plans, hazard vulnerability assessments, training, personal equipment, medical screenings, and behavioral health services for our nation’s fire brigades. It also includes provisions to improve cardiovascular health and cancer prevention.

Considering that OSHA started the process over a decade ago to develop the proposed new standard, I was pleased to see that the proposed rule’s comment period deadline was extended to June 21st, but I hope that OSHA will consider extending the comment period even further so that fire departments have additional time to review the 600-page proposal and ensure that their vital input is heard.

As we review the impacts of OSHA’s proposed standard, it is important that federal regulators consider the disparate impact that a proposed rule could have on smaller fire departments throughout the nation. It is unclear how the proposed standard would impact volunteer-run departments in states with an OSHA-approved plan. Would volunteer firefighters be held to the same standard as employed firefighters? How will this proposed rule affect recruitment and retention? What are the costs associated with adopting these new standards? Are additional training or fitness requirements achievable or overly burdensome?

I appreciate OSHA’s efforts to improve firefighters’ operating environments, but I am concerned that volunteer departments and smaller municipalities may not have the resources to implement the proposed changes in their current state. It is estimated that over one million emergency responders fall within the scope of the proposed rule, with over 331,000 of whom are volunteer firefighters. Therefore, as I stated in a recent letter to OSHA’s Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, I encourage OSHA to consider the unique needs of volunteer departments and to incorporate their feedback into the proposed standard before the comment period ends.

Each community has different needs and capabilities, and I hope we can find a balanced approach that prioritizes safety without hurting smaller fire departments throughout the country. I am committed to supporting our nation’s firefighters and ensuring that they have all the resources they need to provide the best emergency response services to their community.

I look forward to having a robust conversation to consider the potential positive and negative impacts of this proposed rule. Thank you again to our witnesses for participating in this hearing today.