Safety Vests Soon To Be A Requirement For All

As if we don’t have enough regulations in our line of work, there’s another on the way, and this new one is from an agency that does not typically have oversight over the fire service. This time it’s the Federal Highway Administration.

Easy To Meet

Effective Nov. 24, 2008, the FHA will require all emergency responders to wear safety vests that meet the requirements of American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 107-2004 Class II or III, and by interpretation, the FHA includes the ANSI 207-2006 Public Safety Vest while working on or near roadways.

In actuality, this only applies to roadways that receive federal funding, but you get the picture. Before we get our collective undergarments in a wad, this requirement will be easy to meet and not very expensive. The benefits are obvious – literally.

Rule 63 CFR 634 is being implemented to reduce the very high rate of people being struck while working along roadways. This includes: firefighters, EMS personnel, law enforcement officers, department of transportation (DOT) personnel, contractors, and towing/recovery personnel. According to the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, in 2007 there were at least 20 fatalities involving people in these professions.

There is one point of contention that firefighters must understand. Turnout gear does not meet the standard and cannot be worn as a substitute. It lacks the required fluorescent background. Certainly the retro-reflective trim on turnout gear provides visibility at night, but not much in the daytime. Moreover, the new responder safety vest is much more visible at night than turnout gear. This was evident in a video the ERSI produced with the Harrisburg (Pa.) Fire Department. In addition, during normal wear, turnout gear is exposed to degrading heat and abrasive forces that negatively affects the reflective characteristics of the trim.

No Flame Resistance

Before everyone gets carried away, understand vests are not to be worn when fighting fire or when there is obvious threat of fire. They lack the flame resistant properties of turnout gear and could contribute to a burn injury. However, once the fire is out, the vests are to be donned for cleanup and pickup.

If turnout gear is just being worn on a roadway scene for protection against the elements (cold and/or rain), the vest is to be worn outside the turnout gear. Often a turnout coat is worn for job identification purposes only. The vest is a much more comfortable alternative and considerably less expensive. As with fire situations, vests are not to be worn if there is hazmat incident requiring PPE appropriate for the hazards present.

Breakaway Feature

One of the options of the ANSI Public Safety Vest is a 5-point breakaway feature. This feature will likely be a requirement in the next revision of the standard. The option is a feature that allows the vest to break open should it get caught on a mirror or other item on a passing vehicle. It also provides a level of safety if a first responder suddenly becomes engaged with a combative customer. Fire departments are strongly encouraged to specify this option when making their purchase.

The Public Safety Vest is just one part of a comprehensive program to improve safety and traffic flow when roadways are temporarily closed or lanes are partially blocked. Other portions of the program include: cones, flagging, flares, signage, and procedures for positioning apparatus on roadway incidents. All of this will be incorporated into the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, Part 6 Temporary Traffic Control – a publication of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration.

In addition to new requirements for roadway safety in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1500 standard, the next revision of NFPA 1901, effective Jan. 1, 2009, requires all seated positions have the public safety vest with the break-away option, five 28-inch traffic cones, five illuminated traffic control devices (flares, etc., or the cones can be illuminated) and at least 50 percent of the rear vertical surfaces of the apparatus with red/yellow chevron striping. Remember, these are the minimum requirements. Exceeding these requirements might be well justified – especially if you respond to interstate highway or other multi-lane roadways.

It is important to put all of this in context. Why are the feds getting involved? Why can’t we just do as we please here in Happy Land, USA? The reason is that we are an increasingly mobile society that is becoming more international in nature.

Unfortunately, we are a society more prone to driving while impaired, impatient, and/or distracted. Consider the use of alcohol and other drugs, along with cell phones, entertainment screens, navigation systems, and suddenly vehicle operation loses its focus.

These new requirements provide consistency throughout the nation’s roadways. When we are engaged in roadway incidents, we are typically engaged with several other agencies. Imagine the chaos if each community decided what size, shape and color a stop sign or traffic signal should be. An emergency scene should provide a standard level of notification, traffic control and operator safety across the nation. It’s that simple.

Individual Vests

As most departments probably already have vests of some type that their personnel wear while working roadway incidents to begin with, this should not be a requirement that’s hard to sell. To promote a professional image and get good “buy-in” from firefighters, consider purchasing each firefighter his or her own individually issued vest. Place the name of your department on the back and include the name of the firefighter if you wish.

What are the penalties for non-compliance? No one knows for sure. There are no reflective vest policing organizations. However, the burden-of-proof issue will emerge when a firefighter is struck. Don’t allow your organization to be the “make-an-example-out-of” department. Refine your habits now as there is no need to wait until Nov. 24.

As we almost always park apparatus on the roadway for any emergency scene, make vest donning (prior to cab entry) second nature for non-fire calls. A good rule of thumb is: if an SCBA is not needed, a safety vest is required.

There is an excellent Web site for additional information and a comprehensive overview of roadway safety for firefighters. Please take a few minutes to go to http://www.respondersafety.com/“>www.respondersafety.com.

Editor’s Note: Robert Tutterow, who has 30 years in the fire service, is the Charlotte (N.C.) Fire Department health and safety officer. He is a member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Fire Department Apparatus Committee and is on two other NFPA committees, the Structural and Proximity Firefighting Protective Ensemble Technical Committee and the Technical Correlating Committee for Fire and Emergency Services PPE.

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