By Robert Tutterow
“If the U.S. private sector does not step forward to develop a standards and conformance solution to a key national priority, then the U.S. government will meet that need with a regulation.”
This is a quote from the Standards Boost Business (SBB) campaign administered by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Go back to the mid 1980s, and a couple of the “forward thinkers” in the U.S. fire service stated that if the fire service did not get a grip on its health and safety issues, then the men and women who wear the long black robes would do it for us.
OSHA and NFPA
As discussed in previous columns, it could be that we have not done enough to address our health and safety issues. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is looking hard at emergency responders. Following the West Fertilizer explosion and fire in West, Texas, OSHA convened a meeting of stakeholders to address the need for health and safety standards for first responders. Two years after that meeting, the initiative is still alive. OSHA’s National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), an emergency responder preparedness subcommittee, is laying out a draft program to eventually be sent to rule making. Based on the last meeting agenda from its Web site, it is known that it is looking at the following: “medical evaluation and fitness requirements, facility and equipment preparedness, vehicle preparedness and operation, preincident planning, emergency incident standard operating procedures, post-incident analysis, and program evaluation.”
So, where does the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) fit in with all of this? Members of the NFPA’s Fire Service Section Executive Board had the privilege of spending a couple of days at NFPA headquarters in Quincy, Massachusetts. We were afforded the opportunity to meet with multiple NFPA staff people, including vice presidents and President Jim Pauley. According to Ken Willette, the NFPA’s Responder Segment director, if NACOSH proceeds with this process, rule making at OSHA is probably five to seven years away. Of course, there is a chance it could never get to rule making, depending on the political “winds.” When asked if this is a threat or an opportunity for the NFPA, Pauley stated that he thinks it is an opportunity. He stated that, as it currently stands, NACOSH is citing several NFPA standards in its drafts. When asked about how OSHA rule making would be revised (this can take decades), he said the NFPA references were to the “current” revision to the applicable NFPA standard-i.e., the rule making would be automatically updated with each revision of an NFPA standard.
Fire Service Involvement
Our talk with Pauley was most interesting. He became president in July 2014. He said one thing that struck him as he “raised the hood” on the NFPA was the disconnect between the organization and the fire service. He had assumed that there was a very close relationship. By the way, it was clear that he is a huge fan and supporter of the fire service. Another statement he made that resonated was that he applauds the volume of consensus standards developed by the NFPA rather than regulatory standards.
Look back at the title of this column. There is little doubt that the U.S. fire service has, except for some limited involvement, ignored its own environment. As an advocate for the NFPA and consensus standards, I think the fire service needs to better understand this part of its environment. Get involved. The NFPA is evolving. Though it is known for its standards, it is quickly becoming a source of information and education. As it was stated during our board meeting, the NFPA does not save lives, it enables others to save lives. Also, understand that involvement with the NFPA is typically a step-by-step process. Don’t hesitate to take a step or two. Pick out a few current issues and follow along. For example, apparatus seat width, EMS provider medical requirements, and certification of noninterior firefighters are all being discussed.
To further underscore the importance of standards, consider the science that has emerged concerning fire behavior. As Dan Madrzykowski, formerly of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and now with Underwriters Laboratories (UL), stated in a session at FDIC International 2016, the only way to keep this research sustainable is to codify it. Hence, NFPA 1700, Guide for Structural Fire Fighting, is now under development. This is a big deal!
Of the more than 300 NFPA standards, 130 of them pertain to the fire service. And, this number is growing. Some believe that new standards will emerge addressing topics such as big data, EMS response, and high-tech electronic equipment such as robotics. You do not have to be a member of the NFPA to access its standards online or be a member of a technical committee to participate in standards development. The NFPA is also increasing the use of task groups to assist technical committees. Its new “NFPA Xchange” is a blog to network with peers, and there is a section for “emergency response.” The NFPA has developed a “responder forum” to help connect with the fire service. And, its annual conference and expo has educational offerings for the fire service that cannot be found elsewhere. These courses are particularly appealing to firefighters wishing to advance their careers. As aptly noted by Willette, the fire service is evolving from a trade-type occupation to a professional-type organization.
For more information about the role of standards in our society, visit www.standardsboosbusiness.org.
ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. His 34-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Education Resource Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).