OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

July 3, 1990

Alfred B. Robinson, Jr., Attorney
Thompson, Mann and Hutson Law Offices
The Daniel Building
Greenville, South Carolina 29602

Dear Mr. Robinson:

This is in response to your letter of April 25, in which you sought formal interpretations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) 29 CFR's 1910.156 and 1910.157, fire brigades and portable fire extinguisher standards, respectively.

OSHA defines a fire brigade as "... an organized group of employees who are knowledgeable, trained, and skilled in at least basic fire fighting operations." On the basis of that definition, an organization of employees with the responsibility of fighting interior structural or incipient stage fires is subject to the relevant provisions of both 1910.156 and 1910.157 standards. The 1910.156 standard applies to all fire brigades, regardless of whether they are organized to fight interior structural or incipient stage fires. Safety and health requirements are greater for fire brigade members involved in structural fire fighting.

1910.156 does not preclude the employer's organization of fire brigades expressly for the purpose of fighting fires only with portable fire extinguisherS, Class II standpipes or small hose systems (incipient stage fires) so long as the employer establishes a written organizational policy that, among other requirements, outlines the functions that all fire brigades are to perform at the workplace.

Similarly, section 1910.157 of the standard (portable fire extinguisher) would apply to employee organizations also with the responsibility of fighting exterior structural or incipient stage fires. This standard exempts from coverage employers whose employees are not required to use portable fire extinguishers, and have been instructed, through a written fire safety policy, to evacuate the work site upon the sounding of a fire alarm system. Where employers have an emergency action plan that meets the requirements of OSHA's 1910.38 (Employee emergency action plans and [1910.39] fire prevention plans), which designates certain employees to perform incipient stage or interior structural fire fighting, and instructs the other employees to evacuate the affected work area, the employer is not required to provide and distribute fire extinguishers to employees for their use except for those designated to use them.

If you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact [the Office of General Industry Enforcement at (202) 693-1850].


Patricia K. Clark Director
[Director of Enforcement Programs]

[Corrected 2/6/2004]