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Lawmakers Hear Stakeholder Perspectives on OSHA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Fire Brigades Standard

June 5, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. — This week, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology, led by Chairman Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY), heard stakeholder perspectives on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) proposed rule to replace the Fire Brigades standard to provide workplace protections for all personnel who respond to emergencies as part of their regular duties. Witnesses testified to the need for updates to the Fire Brigades standard, while also acknowledging the rule’s potential impacts to local fire services. Comments on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking can be submitted here by July 22, 2024.
Witness testimony was provided by David Denniston, 2nd vice president for the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York; Chief Joseph Maruca, director for the National Volunteer Fire Council and the former fire chief of West Barnstable Fire Department; Evan Davis, director of government affairs for the International Association of Fire Fighters; and Grant Walker, president of Prince George’s County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics Association.


In his opening line of questioning, Chairman D’Esposito asked witnesses about the need for improvements to the Fire Brigades standard:
 “What is the most important issue in the 1980 standard that needs to be updated?”
Davis answered:
“I think health and safety issues are critical to our members. I think when you look at the rates of cancer in the fire service and the number of firefighters we’re losing to cancer, particularly ones that would be and could be detected far earlier, those health screenings are really critical. I think a lot of those details of the health screenings [are] probably best determined at the local level. I think some level of health screening is important, so I think that’s certainly one. But I think recognizing minimum training standards is critically important. A common thing we see in a lot of our line of duty death investigations, be it on the career or the volunteer side, are either folks acting beyond their skill level [or] beyond their certification level, and that is such an easy area that we can crack that nut and get that training to folks.”
Chairman D’Esposito then shifted focus to the rule’s potential impact to recruitment and retention:
“How would the OSHA’s proposed rule impact firefighter recruitment and retention in order to maintain the volunteer fire service across not only New York state, but… across Long Island?”
Denniston replied:
“I think when we look at the proposed rule as written, we’re not opposed to the majority of the things that are in there. And we 100% agree that a lot of that needs to be done. Our objections at this point are in some of the details of that. With the incorporation with those 22 NFPA standards, you would take our basic firefighter training in New York right now, [which] is around 124 hours. We’ve had the Nassau and Suffolk Fire Academies [give] us estimates [indicating] that would raise that number of hours and training up to 260 plus hours. Our fear [is if] I get a volunteer that’s interested, they walk in the door and then I tell them, ‘Before you can do anything I’ve now got to have you sit through 268 hours worth of training.’ They’re not going to have that time to commit to their local organization, and they’re going to find another place to volunteer. So again, we firmly believe in training. We think there’s a lot of things that need to be done. We would like to see that worked into the rule itself instead of the incorporation of the standards, which raises to a benchmark that’s unobtainable.”


Rep. Nick LaLota (R-NY) asked witnesses what they think the new standard does well:
“In a few sentences, can you describe what’s in this rule that you do like and that you do support, that would enhance the safety of your members?
Denniston answered: 
I think, as several of the panelists have already mentioned here, the physical component of it is very important for our firefighters, and we want to make sure our firefighters have the proper screening. The problem with the rule as proposed is [that] by incorporating NFPA 1582, we’re going to take the average price of a firefighter physical in my district from $300 up to about $1300 per firefighter. When I look at the amount of documentation that would be needed for the pre-plans and all of that kind of stuff, we don’t have any paid personnel in my department, so we would have to hire somebody to come in and do that. When I look at the cost of doing that, and I look at the cost of the physical increase from my firefighters, I’m taking my $280,000 and moving it to $440,000. That’s a 42% increase in my budget. It’s just not obtainable or agreeable to my taxpayers.”
Rep. LaLota then asked:
“And from where would those funds come, if they had to?”
Denniston replied:
Again, we would either have to raise taxes 42%, or as we mentioned earlier, Congress would have to refund some of the grant programs, but the problem with the grant program is that it’s a one-time thing.”


Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-OK) asked about local fire services’ awareness of OSHA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking:
“How many fire departments nationwide…do you think know about this?
Denniston answered:
“We were at FDIC, which is one of the premier fire conferences in the country, which was just a few weeks ago, and couldn’t believe the number of firefighters that we talked to when we asked them what they were doing about the proposed OSHA document, that [said] What are you talking about? We don’t know anything about it, we haven’t heard about it.’ It really hasn’t garnered the attention in the press, in the publications, and the smaller rural departments are just not aware. We appreciate the two extensions that have been given so far by OSHA for our comments, but we think we’ve got a long way to go. And then as people digest these 608 pages, they feel like they don’t have enough time to look at it, digest it, and make meaningful comments, so they just kind of throw their hands up and walk away.”