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July 15, 1997


MEMORANDUM FOR:           Charles W. Smith
                         Assistant for Fire and Emergency Services 
                         (Safety and Occupational Health Policy)

FROM:                     John E. Plummer, Director Office of Federal 
                         Agency Programs

SUBJECT:                  July 2, 1997 Memo on Proper PPE for 

To restate OSHA's position on requiring proximity gear as simply as I possibly can;

  • If a firefighter's primary job is crash and rescue, he or she must be adequately protected for that job (NFPA 1976 equipment), this is true even for those large combined fire departments with multiple tasks where personnel are rotated from station to station and expected to perform crash and rescue duties.
  • If a firefighter's primary job is structural, then he or she must be adequately protected for that job (NFPA 1971 equipment). This does not preclude being trained for incidental response to aircraft crashes as crashes can and do occur in unexpected locations.

In the telephone conversations that you refer to between Mr. Ron Cain of my staff and Mr. Killen and Mr. Shelton of DOD, Mr. Cain stated that the directive on proper personal protective equipment for firefighters was issued to clarify OSHA's position on NFPA 1971 and NFPA 1976. As Mr. Cain explained to both these individuals, the directive was written to allow OSHA compliance officers in the field to make the determination on whether or not aluminized proximity clothing was required. Since we are not on site and the compliance officer is, we feel that he or she is able to make a better determination through interviews with firefighters, labor representatives and managers, which is critical for the compliance officer to be able to perform his or her job in the field. As Mr. Cain stated to Mr. Killen, if a firefighter's primary job is aircraft crash and rescue, then that firefighter must have the appropriate protective clothing. In the case that Mr. Killen cited, that of San Diego's combined fire department, where a firefighter can be tasked to do any type of firefighting at any time (usually on a rotational basis), then all 300 firefighters are going to have to be equipped to fight any type of fire. In Mr. Shelton's case where he stated that aircraft crash and rescue is less than 5% of the tasking, then proximity firefighting is "incidental" and not the primary job. The previous memorandum issued by this office on April 3, 1997, allows the compliance officer to make that determination on-site. If during an inspection, the compliance officer discovers through interviews with firefighters, labor representatives and managers that the employees are hired and trained to primarily fight proximity fires during crash and rescue operations, the firefighters must be equipped with NFPA 1976 equipment.

This office supports the idea in your memo on procuring the 1976 ensemble that has the removable (ARFF) outer cover. That way, even the rotational units would be fully protected (with adequate training). Your office can require that all DOD units have such equipment, my office or OSHA can not under current standards.