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.

November 13, 1998

Mark Schultz, GFD
Senior Fire Inspector
Gallatin Fire Department
119 Foster Street
Gallatin, TN 37066-3209

Dear Mr. Schultz:

This is in response to your letter of April 30, addressed to Mr. John B. Miles asking for interpretations of the new Respiratory Protection Standard, 29 CFR 1910.134. You had specific questions regarding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) two in/two out requirement. We apologize for the long delay of this response. As you may be aware, Federal OSHA does not have jurisdiction over employees of State and local governments, including firefighters. However, the State of Tennessee does cover public sector employees under its OSHA-approved occupational safety and health State plan. Tennessee has adopted a standard identical to the Federal respiratory protection standard. While the State may interpret its standard differently from Federal OSHA, the interpretations must be at least as effective as the Federal interpretations. You may wish to contact the Tennessee Department of Labor concerning its enforcement of the respiratory protection standard. The address is:


Michael E. Magill, Commissioner
Tennessee Department of Labor
710 James Robertson Parkway
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-5078


Telephone: (615) 741-2582

We are providing Commissioner Magill with a copy of this letter.

You had several questions asking if the two in/two out rule for interior structural fire fighting was a one for one policy, specifically if four people were in did that mean that four people had to stand by, if eleven people were inside, did that mean eleven people had to be on stand by and so on. No, the two in/two out rule may not be interpreted as four in/four out, eight in/eight out. There must always be at least two firefighters stationed outside during interior structural firefighting, prepared to enter if necessary to rescue the firefighters inside. However, the incident commander has the flexibility to determine whether more than two outside firefighters are necessary when more than two firefighters go inside. In a situation where the burning structure is very large, additional outside firefighters may be warranted to ensure effective assistance and rescue. For example, where the firefighting involves entry from different locations or levels, two outside fire fighters may have to be stationed at each point of entry.

You also asked whether standby personnel had to wait for additional standby personnel before entering to attempt a rescue of fire fighters in a structural fire. No. There is an explicit exemption in the Respiratory Protection Standard that if life is in jeopardy, the two-in/two out requirement is waived. The incident commander and the firefighters at the scene must decide whether the risks posed by entering an interior structural fire prior to the assembly of at least four firefighters is outweighed by the need to rescue victims who are at risk of death or serious physical harm. There is no violation of the standard under rescue circumstances.

Please note that on August 3, 1998, OSHA published Questions and Answers on the Respiratory Protection Standard. This 79 page document contains guidance on respiratory protection. There are many questions in this document on respiratory protection and firefighting issues and may help you develop a thorough respiratory protection program. In addition, OSHA has recently published the Compliance Directive, CPL 2-0.120, an inspection procedure document for the OSHA field offices, and the Small Entity Compliance Guide to assist small employers in complying with the respiratory standard. All these documents can be found on the Internet at the OSHA Home Page at http://www.osha.gov.

Should you require any additional information on this matter, please, feel free to contact our Office of Health Compliance Assistance at (202) 693-2190.


Richard E. Fairfax
Acting Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs