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.

April 29, 1998

J. Curtis Varone, Esq.
55 Azalea Avenue
Exeter, RI. 02822

Dear Mr. Varone:

This is in response to your letter dated January 16, to Mr. Kipp Hartmann, Area Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Providence Rhode Island, Area Office. The subject of your letter is section (g)(4) of OSHA's Respiratory Protection Standard, 29 CFR 1910.134, which has been recently revised and published in the Federal Register. You have asked OSHA to provide Information on cases where firefighters who were among the first four members to arrive on the scene of a structure fire, were trapped and unable to extricate themselves.

The safety of firefighters engaged in interior structural firefighting is the major focus of paragraph (g)(4) of the OSHA Respiratory Protection standard. This provision requires that at least two employees enter the Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) atmosphere and remain in visual or voice contact with each other at all times. It also requires that at least two employees be located outside the IDLH atmosphere, thus the term, "two in/two out". This assures that the "two in" can monitor each other and assist with equipment failure or entrapment or other hazards, and the "two out" can monitor those in the building, initiate rescue, or call for back-up. One of the "two out" can be assigned another role such as incident commander.

The two-out provision of the standard is not a change from OSHA's prior Respiratory Protection Standard, which required standby men (plural) whenever respirators were used in imminent danger situations. The two-in requirement for firefighters, which you do not question, was not required by the prior standard but is consistent with OSHA's recent enforcement practice. OSHA's rationale for the requirements is explained in detail in the preamble to the standard at 63 Fed. Reg. 1245-1248 (Jan. 8, 1998). As well as the situations described there, OSHA has received reports of a number of incidents in which the failure to follow two-in/two-out procedures has contributed to firefighter casualties.

For example, in Lexington, Kentucky, one firefighter died and a second Kentucky OSHA cited the firefighters' employer for failing to utilize two-in/two-out procedures. In a second case, OSHA has learned about two firefighters who died from smoke inhalation after being overcome by toxic fumes while fighting an accidental fire in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although two additional firefighters were outside the home, both were engaged in support activities (hydrant hook-up and pump operation), and neither was fully accountable for monitoring the interior personnel.

OSHA also has had a report of a success story following the adoption of two-in/two-out procedures in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The fire department there implemented an accountability and rescue system after a fatal fire. In one case, four firefighters who were performing an interior attack on an apartment building fire became disoriented and were trapped in the building. The standby personnel were able to initiate rescue operations promptly. As a result, although the four interior firefighters and two of the rescuers were injured, all survived.

Because these cases involve situations that are typical of those faced by firefighters, we expect there are additional instances of firefighters who either were or could have been saved through the utilization of two-in/two-out procedures. Most firefighters are employed by local governments, however, and their operations are not governed by Federal OSHA, which does not cover state and local government employees. In contrast, states that operate their own OSHA-approved occupational safety and health plans must cover these public employees. Therefore the provisions of the respirator standard relating to firefighters will be enforced primarily by the twenty-five state-plan states. As you know, Rhode Island does not have its own OSHA-approved state plan so no OSHA program will enforce the two-in/two-out requirement in its public fire departments. OSHA does, however, encourage compliance by these employers.

OSHA also emphasizes that the two-in/two-out provision, like all OSHA standards, states a minimum requirement. Your suggestion that safety would be enhanced if the two inside firefighters are accompanied by a supervisor is therefore not precluded by the OSHA standard. However, because an additional person would then be subject to the extrahazardous and hostile environment created by a structural fire, the need for adequate and attentive standby personnel is even more crucial. OSHA also questions your premise that, in the case of a four-person crew with a two-person interior team, one of the outside members would need to serve as a full-time incident commander. We believe it should be possible for one crew member to operate the pump or perform any other necessary support activities, while the other monitors the inside team. But regardless of the size of the team, the least desirable situation would be to have only a single outside crew member, particularly one whose attention is focused on performing support functions rather than on monitoring the firefighters inside.

We thank you for your interest in safety and health. We hope this provides you with the information you have requested. If you have further questions, please call Ms. Wanda Bissell of my staff at (202) 219-8036 Ext. 41.


John B. Miles, Jr.
Directorate of Compliance Programs