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 http://www.osha.gov.

July 8, 1991

Richard M. Duffy, Director
Department of Occupational Health and Safety
International Association of Fire Fighters
1750 New York Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006

Dear Mr. Duffy:

This is in further response to your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request dated April 21, asking for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) documents regarding protective clothing for fire fighters engaged in aircraft and rescue operations. Your main concerns are in regard to certain statements made in an OSHA memorandum dated
December 21, 1990, which responded to an inquiry from an OSHA Regional Office.

An interim response, which informed you that we were reviewing your request and attempting to identify all documents disclosable under the FOIA, was mailed to you on May 16. Since you said in your letter that we should not hesitate to contact you, we attempted to complete a followup telephone call to you several times to discuss the issues you raised. We regret that we were unable to contact you.

OSHA recognizes and appreciates your concerns regarding certain statements made in the aforementioned memorandum; however, we feel that there is a misunderstanding of intent as related to the type of protective clothing worn by fire fighters. OSHA looks first at the hazardous conditions, second how best to protect the employees, and third whether the protection being provided is equal to the requirements in the OSHA regulations or provides greater protection. Therefore, OSHA recognizes that changes in design and materials of structural fire fighting protective clothing (found in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard 1971), which is provided at military locations, has resulted in gear that provides equal or greater protection than that presently afforded by Crash Fire Rescue (CFR) suits.

In responding to the OSHA Regional Office memorandum (copy enclosed) dated October 24, 1990, which related to issues that arose when citations were issued to the U.S. Army Transportation Center and the Oceanic Naval Air Station, OSHA made the decision that the protective clothing provided reflected the hazards that were expected to be encountered. This is covered in the OSHA regulations, 29 CFR Part 1910, July 1, 1990, Edition, (pages 448-449 enclosed). In situations not covered by OSHA or when the NFPA standards are more stringent than the OSHA standards, the NFPA standards will govern as the Army Code requires. The Army acted in accord with Army Regulation 420-90, Section 1-10, paragraph c (copy enclosed).

Also, we have enclosed a page from the OSHA Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) Standard, 29 CFR 1910.120, (54 FR 9328), March 6, 1989, which covers the criteria contained in 29 CFR 1910.156(e) regarding protective equipment worn while performing fire fighting operations beyond the incipient stage.

In regard to ". . . proper proximity protective clothing to protect fire fighters from the conductive, convective, and radiant heat fluxes encountered during such rescues," OSHA has realized that there is a certain danger to the fire fighter. This is especially true for those performing advance interior structural fire fighting. Although proximity protective clothing requires the aluminization of the outer shell, we are seeing the continued use of a cotton thermal liner, which negates any advantages that aluminized shell has to offer. This is particularly true for fire fighters engaged in aircraft fire operations.

While we can understand your opinions regarding statements made by the U.S. Army Transportation Center, it is not OSHA's policy to provide comment as to the standard operating procedure for either military or civilian crash rescue operations. It is our concern as to the type of equipment that will most effectively provide protection for the fire fighters against the hazardous conditions that are likely to be encountered during fire operations in that fire department's area of response.

OSHA appreciates and supports the NFPA's Technical Committee in developing a standard which will specify criteria for clothing designed to protect fire fighters against adverse effects encountered during proximity fire fighting involved in crash fire rescue operations. The availability of NFPA standards which address these issues would assist OSHA in focusing on the need and the feasibility of initiating rulemaking on this subject.

Our draft copy of the 1991 Edition of NFPA 1971 does not reflect any recognition of the changes in design and materials of structural fire fighting protective clothing which have resulted in state of the art gear because this was not the main concern at that time. OSHA determined that there was a misunderstanding of intent contained in the warning label affixed to each garment.Therefore. NFPA is removing the "do not use" language in the 1986 Edition (copy enclosed) and replacing it with the "may not" language in the draft 1991 Edition (copy enclosed). This change in language was not meant as a reference to NFPA changing the "minimum design or performance standard."

Fire departments that do not normally incur the crash fire rescue but are involved in bulk flammable liquids, flammable gas fire fighting hazards such as LPG in their response area, and may not have the proximity protection of a CFR or Hazardous Materials (HAZ-MAT) team must have structural gear as called for in HAZWOPER. Therefore, when we can be assured that the structural fire fighting protective clothing worn during crash fire rescue operations such as rural areas and other non-airport locations reflect the hazards which are expected to be encountered, so long as the protective clothing is used and maintained in accordance with NFPA 1971 and 29 CFR 1910.156, we would not issue citations to employers. What we are saying is that OSHA will not cite if the employer can prove equal or better protection than provided by the use of conventional proximity gear. Please see the enclosed pages 448-449 from 29 CFR 1910.156 which was updated July 1, 1990.

Other than the documents we have enclosed, OSHA does not have meeting notes, telephone logs, or inter-department correspondence that were used to make the statements in question. These types of documents would not be used by OSHA to make such determinations that result in protecting the lives of fire fighters involved in proximity fire fighting operations.

We appreciate your interest in this matter and thank you for the useful information you have provided. If you desire further information regarding the issues we have discussed herein, please feel free to contact [the Directorate of Enforcement Programs] again.

Sincerely,

 

Patricia K. Clark, Director
[Directorate of Enforcement Programs]

(Correction 1/17/03)