News

The Future of Turn Out Gear to be Decided

November 21st, 2021

Jeffery and Grace Stull

Every five years or so, NFPA standards undergo a review and revision process to ensure they accurately reflect fire service needs and emerging technology. This is the case again this year, as NFPA 1971 on turnout gear, NFPA 1975 on station/work uniforms, NFPA 1981 on SCBA and NFPA 1982 on personal alert safety systems (PASS) formally enter their revision cycle, with the updates expected to be finalized in the summer of 2023.

What makes this revision cycle unique? There are transformative issues confronting the fire service within these standards. Plus, all four standards are going to be consolidated into a single volume – a big shift for the industry.

THE BANE AND BENEFITS OF CONSOLIDATION

NFPA decided that there were too many individual fire service standards to manage, and thus began a process two years ago to merge many standards that had similar topical areas. The ultimate goal: Reduce the approximately 130 fire service standards to one-third that number.

In the realm of PPE, this has included some sensible consolidations, like NFPA 1990, now home to all the hazmat PPE information – no longer spread among NFPA 1991, NFPA 1992 and NFPA 1994. In that case, a single responsible committee endeavored to update and streamline the requirements for the full range of hazmat and CBRN. The result was harmonized requirements and test methods that established a more manageable 143-page document, instead of the combined 236 pages of the preceding editions.

Specific to turnout clothing standards, the immediate benefits of consolidation remain to be seen, as this process is just starting.

The current plan is that the new replacement standard, NFPA 1970 (a newly numbered standard to prevent confusion with prior standards), will have a shared introductory chapter, reference list and set of definitions, but otherwise will have the separate chapters for each of the existing standards, including certification, labeling, design, performance, and test methods separately sequenced. This is intended to preserve the separate identity associated with labeling products to the existing standard. Products will still be identified as being certified to NFPA 1971, for example. This is also intended to ease the transition to a more comprehensive standard. After all, the new document will be the result of four separate technical committees trying to integrate a significant amount of content into a comprehensive specification on a complex group of products.

However, this approach may not achieve the potential benefits of consolidation where the entire ensemble – everything a firefighter wears for structural firefighting – is covered in one document with full harmonization of requirements at this first juncture. Moreover, the new NFPA 1970 will become an encyclopedia-like document, estimated to be over 300 pages long.

It is possible that the NFPA technical committees involved may attempt some harmonization in bringing the individual turnout clothing system standards together. Some possibilities include ensuring that the certification process used to qualify product and allow labeling to show compliance be made fully uniform among products. This aids the manufacturing industry, particularly for companies that make products addressed by multiple standards. It may also finally be possible that some of the common tests will truly be common, making it less expensive to test and certify products.

There are also some interesting opportunities that may occur as part of this consolidation process. Consider that station/work uniforms could be permitted, under special circumstances, to be part of the overall insulation provided by the turnout clothing system for purposes of protection. Consolidation of NFPA 1971 (turnout gear) and NFPA 1975 (station/work uniforms) could possibly make that conceivable.

Another possibility is to finally address the system as a whole, again with all the equipment in place. There is now the basis for full ensemble testing for garments, helmets, hoods, gloves, footwear, SCBA and PASS collectively to be evaluated for different forms of protection, interface effectiveness and interoperability. A new NFPA 1970 platform can permit this approach. Moreover, it also could lead to better consideration of integrated products, particularly for emerging electronic sensors and related equipment, to become part of the overall ensemble for future fire service use.

PREVAILING ISSUES

In this revision cycle, it is also expected that many new issues facing the fire service and PPE industry will be up for debate, with the potential for various updates to change the look and availability of turnout clothing-based products. For example, criteria related to contamination resistance and cleanability is now a central topic as well as improvements in demonstrating durability and finally addressing restrictive substances, such as PFAS, in meaningful ways. We have covered some of these issues in recent columns – “Gear expectations: Firefighters expect more from their turnouts” and “Is the fire service ready for a PPE shake-up?” – but there are also other key areas of debate coming up during the less-than-two-year period where decisions will be made on minimum requirements for turnout gear.

One example is whether particulate-blocking hoods should become mandatory. Optional requirements were introduced as part of the 2018 edition changes in NFPA 1971 for firefighter hoods to provide for particulate blocking, especially since ample evidence had become available about firefighter neck and face exposure to smoke particulates coming through the normally two-layer porous knit hoods. A large part of the fire service has moved to these types of hoods, and additional research, including that conducted by North Carolina State University as part of a federal grant, has added to the information for the utility and performance of these products. The question is whether the fire service should shift to these newer products, now available from a wide range of manufacturers.

Further, there has been a decades-spanning debate about eye and face protection provided with helmets, typically part of face shields, goggles and various forms of retractable or flip-down visors. There are many opinions on this issue, but some advancements are being made in understanding product utility and protection, so it is expected that this issue will come up again with new angles and new proposals for attempting to mirror the true needs and preferences for firefighters.

Another controversial area is the mandatory requirements for drag rescue devices (DRDs) installed into the protective coat. This feature has been a mainstay of the NFPA 1971 requirements since it was introduced in 2007. Since that time, there have been few, if any, reported instances where the DRD has been used for the rapid extrication of firefighters. Many firefighters complain that under emergency circumstances, the DRD simply is not readily accessible and that there are easier ways to accomplish removing a downed firefighter from the fireground. In fact, the last edition of NFPA 1500 on general fire department occupational safety and health recognized in one of its use requirements that organizations should have standard operating procedures (SOPs) specific to rapid firefighter extrication, and the DRD was only one of the approaches that can be established. Still, there are others in the fire service who believe that unless the DRD is mandatory, it simply won’t be available to firefighters under emergency conditions. The question here is whether the DRD should remain mandatory or become an optional feature for which requirements are applied when present in the clothing.

Finally, there are some who argue that new metrics are needed to judge thermal insulation for protection as balanced against physiological stress imposed by the clothing. To this end, proposals for supplementing both thermal protective performance (TPP) and total heat loss (THL) are expected to change how the industry defines these characteristics. There are some firefighters who argue that the current system does not need to be changed, yet the TPP test itself is over 35 years old and the TPP requirement of 35 has remained in place for that same time. Despite that, fireground conditions have been shown to be evolving with more modern material and their consequent hazards, and there still a need to better balance heat insulation and physiological comfort.

GOING FORWARD

There are many, many more areas of change that will be considered in the next edition of NFPA 1971, soon to be under the NFPA 1970 umbrella standard. How these changes are considered will be determined over the next 18 months, but it is very likely in our opinion that some significant changes will occur, fundamentally changing how we think about PPE.

The fire service should not sit idly on the sidelines waiting to see what emerges from this process. It is important for individual organizations to weigh in on turnout clothing-focused standards. Change can be difficult, but transformation through increased awareness and new technology is a way of life, particularly when it comes to ensuring that firefighters receive the best possible protection at the lowest possible cost – in terms of both risk and money.

Why Would A Fire Union Try to Extinguish Volunteers? (good read)

November 21st, 2021

By Frank Ricci

Volunteer firefighters are critical to many of America’s communities, donating time and labor worth billions of dollars each year, but the country’s biggest firefighters union apparently is trying to extinguish them. The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) represents more than 325,000 professional firefighters and paramedics across the United States and Canada. If their goal is to replace volunteers with dues-paying members, it would place a significant burden on taxpayers in many communities.

Shortages of willing volunteers have reached a crisis level affecting areas in several states, including Virginia and California. There likely isn’t a volunteer fire department that is immune from recruitment and retention issues. These issues can affect departments’ abilities to respond when people call 911, and they can have a direct impact on local property taxes.

The Virginia Fire Chiefs Association says the shortage of volunteers has hit a critical level. Seventy percent of Virginia’s firefighters are volunteers, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The ongoing challenges with recruitment and retention are compounded by the constitution and bylaws of the IAFF, prohibiting career firefighters from volunteering. These bylaws were codified in March and include “volunteering” in a list of serious charges such as embezzlement, assault of an officer, or membership in a terrorist organization. The penalty for a career firefighter donating his time to help a child who is having an asthma attack, or to respond to a car accident or participate in saving a neighbor’s home or business could be a “reprimand, fine, suspension from office, or suspension or expulsion from membership.”

In states and jurisdictions with collective bargaining laws, the IAFF’s ban against volunteering is expanding past its bylaws with recommendations that are highlighted in the union’s “Model Contract Language Manual,” to prohibit a career firefighter from volunteering regardless of union membership. If this language is codified into contracts, it could have a devastating impact when a person calls for help. What if a call goes unanswered?

Many communities rely on career firefighters who choose to give back to their hometowns by augmenting training programs, fulfilling command roles or operating complicated fire apparatus. Obtaining certification and clearance to drive a firetruck is a difficult requirement for a volunteer to obtain. It is not uncommon to have a qualified crew ready to respond to a call, but left waiting for a driver. Or, in volunteer departments with duty nights — in which volunteers commit to staff a shift — some are unable to staff all the apparatus in the station because of a lack of drivers.

Most career firefighters started as volunteers, bringing vital experience to their departments. Volunteer departments typically have robust training budgets and provide quality training opportunities.

A 2020 report from the National Volunteer Fire Council states that volunteers comprise 67 percent of firefighters across the country. Of the 29,706 fire departments in the United States, 19,112 are all-volunteer; those agencies protect communities of 10,000 or fewer residents. The report found that the number of volunteer firefighters hit an all-time low in 2017 — underscoring the need for volunteers.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, time donated by firefighters who are willing to volunteer can save localities an estimated $46.9 billion combined. Career firefighters have been volunteering since the establishment of the career fire service. Isn’t this a tradition that is worth embracing?

Volunteer firefighters represent the best in America — neighbors helping neighbors. Individuals are willing to answer calls, even knowing that they could make their spouse a widow and their children parentless by helping the community they serve. It’s a shame to see a labor union try to place limitations upon the volunteers.

What You Need to Know About the Proposed Revisions to the OSHA Fire Brigade Standard

November 16th, 2021

OSHA has proposed a revision to 1910.156 Fire Brigade Standard Attached) that would have significant impacts on how we do business as NYS Fire Districts. This is not a new initiative (been around since at least 2016) but it recently came off the sidelines and is trucking full speed ahead.

DRAFT OF THE PROPOSED OSHA FIRE BRIGADE STANDARD

https://afdca.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/erp-draft-reg.pdf

QUICK SYNOPSIS OF WHAT THE STANDARD COVERS

https://afdca.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Synopsis-of-proposed-Emergency-Resp-Std-1910.156.docx

SMALLL BUSINESS ADVOCACY REVIEW PANEL – SMALL ENTITY REPRESENTATIVES

https://afdca.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/ER-SER-Issues-Document-final.pdf

Contact your federal representatives, congress person and senator!!

Letter Templates available here for those in the immediate Capital Area.

If your Congressperson is different just substitute their name where appropriate.

Letter to Congressman Paul Tonko, https://afdca.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Tonko-Letter-OSHA-regs.docx

Letter to Kirsten Gillibrand, https://afdca.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Gillibrand-Letter-OSHA-regs.docx

Letter to Charles Schumer, https://afdca.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Schumer-Letter-OSHA-regs.docx

Letter to Elise Stefanik, https://afdca.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Stefanik-Letter-OSHA-regs.docx

Cancer Benefit Program State Reporting Requirements

November 16th, 2021

Please read and responds appropriately related to the deadlines for the Cancer Benefit Program from OFPC.

2021 VFECDB Letter final

Firefighter Cancer Benefit Program Information You Need to Know

October 27th, 2021
New York State Volunteer Firefighter Cancer Benefit Program by The Hartford

Cancer Protection Designed by Firefighters for Firefighters

Thank you for your membership in the New York State Volunteer Firefighter Cancer Benefit Program. FASNY, NYSAFC and AFCSNY partnered with The Hartford to create a program that offers eligible volunteer firefighters cancer protection as required by GML 205-CC effective January 1, 2019. The coverage will automatically renew on January 1, 2022.

The Program offers two different cancer coverages. The basic program covers the specific cancers listed in GML 205-CC.The enhanced program covers more types of cancer including lung cancer.

IMPORTANT CHANGES Effective January 1, 2022:

  1. 15% Rate Decrease
  2. For 2022, the cost of the Basic Program will be $132.60 per firefighter per year
  3. For 2022, the cost of the Enhanced (all cancers) Program will be $169.15 per firefighter per year
  4. Contract Change Regarding Eligibility for Coverage:

The definition of Eligible Volunteer Firefighter has been amended to allow for easier determination of eligibility per OFPC guidance:

A volunteer interior firefighter who has five or more years of faithful and actual service in the protection of life and property from fire subsequent to having successfully passed a physical examination which failed to reveal any evidence of Cancer; and, has submitted or is able to submit proof of five years of interior firefighting service by providing verification that he/she has passed at least five yearly certified mask fitting tests as set forth in 29 CFR 1910.134 or the applicable National Fire Protection Association Standards for Mask Fit testing; or, for firefighters who entered fire service prior to January first, 2020, documentation identified by the office of fire prevention and control in rules and regulations promulgated pursuant to subdivision seven of this section which shall include, but not be limited to, training or certification records, health care provider records, internal fire department records, or any combination of official documents capable of evidencing that the firefighter meets the aforementioned requirements

  1. Contract Change Allowing Optional Coverage for Exterior Firefighters:

The definition of Eligible Volunteer Firefighter has been broadened to include exterior firefighters that meet the definition below. You can now include exterior firefighters on your census, should you wish to purchase this benefit on their behalf. GML 205-CC does not mandate the purchase this benefit for exterior firefighters. Eligibility Description: A volunteer exterior firefighter who has five or more years of faithful and actual service in the protection of life and property from fire subsequent to having successfully passed a physical examination which failed to reveal any evidence of Cancer.

In preparation for 2022, we will be reaching out to you for roster updates beginning on October 25, 2022. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at:

nysvfb@alliant.com

(833) 531 1959

www.thehartford.com/resources/gb/ny-firefighter


NEW YORK CANCER COVERAGE BY VFIS

Everything you need to know about adding or renewing VFIS Cancer Coverage to help better protect your organization and volunteers

STATUTORY CANCER COVERAGE

Who needs to be covered? What is Class 1 and Class 2?

Class 1: All active volunteer firefighters, who meet the eligibility criteria set forth by NYS law. Premium for Statutory Coverage – $137 per member

Class 2: All formerly insured inactive volunteer firefighters, who meet the eligibility criteria set forth by NYS law. Formerly insured inactive volunteers must be covered for 60 months after leaving the fire service. Premium for Statutory Coverage – $123 per member

NEW OPTIONAL CLASSES AVAILABLE

Class 3: All active exterior volunteer firefighters who have five or more years of exterior service and do not meet the eligibility criteria set forth by NYS law. Premium for Statutory Coverage – $137 per member

Class 4: All formerly insured inactive exterior volunteer firefighters. Formerly insured inactive volunteers will be covered for 60 months after leaving the fire service. Premium for Statutory Coverage – $123 per member

OPTIONAL ALL CANCERS ENHANCEMENT AVAILABLE IMPORTANT UPDATE FOR 2022

You can provide coverage beyond what’s required for ANY type of cancer. In additional to the statutory cancer coverage required by the legislation in New York, VFIS has an All Cancers Enhanced Rider which can be added on to an existing policy.

Classes 1 & Classes 3 – for only $51 more per member. | Classes 2 & Classes 4 – for only $47 more per member

Would You Like to work On State Fire Service Legislation?

October 26th, 2021

Have you had enough? Would you like to get involved?  The Capital Area will be putting together a more formal discussion group on fire service related state legislation with representatives from the fire districts in the Capital Area, and beyond if interested.  Not sure of the structure of the group just yet but we will be having regular conversations concerning fire service-related legislation and communication efforts with the various state representatives from the eight counties that comprise the Capital Area Association.  We envision this group to meet virtually most of the time so that there is no travel involved for anyone and we are interested in focusing on the legislative issues confronting our fire district operations at the state and local level.  Please drop me an email at tom@rinaldi1.com if you are interested in participating in this group. Looking forward to hearing from you since we would like to get this off the ground for the next legislative session beginning January 1st.

COMPARE THE 11 REGIONS OF THE STATE ASSOCIATION

October 17th, 2021

There are many inequities and questions to be asked and answered.  Ask your regional directors John Meehan and George June.

Regional Vital Statistics

AMENDMENT TO STATUTE ALLOWS A CHANGE TO THE DEPT. RESPONSES POINT SYSTEM CATEGORY

October 15th, 2021

Contributed by Tony Hill

A bill that allows a LOSAP sponsor to change the department responses category of its point system was signed by Governor Hochul as Chapter 462 of the Laws of 2021.

This new law allows a LOSAP sponsor to adjust the department responses category of its point system to recognize that some groups of volunteers may be restricted from responding to certain types of calls. 

As a reminder, the department responses category provides that 25 points are earned by a volunteer who attends a minimum number of the fire department’s total calls for the year. For departments that also have a rescue/ambulance unit, an additional 25 points can be earned for attending a minimum number of those calls as well. The minimum number is based on a percentage of the total calls for the year. For example, if a department has 400 calls during a year, a volunteer must respond to 40 (10%) in order to earn 25 points. The department responses category is unique from other categories since it is an all-or-nothing category – either a volunteer responds to at least the minimum number and earns 25 points or does not and earns zero (0) points

If a volunteer is restricted from attending some calls, it limits the opportunity to respond to the minimum to earn the 25 points. For example, if a certain volunteer is restricted from responding to 50 of those 400 total calls, that volunteer would have to respond to 40 of the other 350 calls – a little more than 11%. The new law allows a LOSAP sponsor to change the requirement for this volunteer from 10% of 400 calls to 10% of 350 calls, or 35, to earn 25 points. This new statute will help many fire departments better align awarding points for calls with the department’s operations. 

If a LOSAP sponsor chooses to adjust its point system for this change, no referendum is required – only a resolution of the LOSAP sponsor governing board (at least 60% approval) is needed. However, it states that an adjustment to the point system must be in response to written emergency response protocols adopted by the sponsor. (The use of the term sponsor here is potentially problematic, as a village or town isn’t likely setting emergency response protocols for a department.) The statute elaborates that these protocols may be related to a determination made by the district/department physician regarding the duties that a volunteer may be assigned. Since the word may is used, that implies it is not the only determining factor that could be used when a sponsor adopts these written emergency response protocols.

The adjustment would become effective the January 1st following the date the sponsoring board adopts the resolution, unless the written emergency response protocols were enacted as a result of a state disaster emergency. The wording of the amendment is not completely clear regarding this case – if the amendment can be made effective in the year the resolution is adopted by the board, or when the written emergency response protocols were adopted, or even when the state disaster emergency was declared. The takeaway is there is some flexibility allowed in this case.

It is important to be clear about how this amendment is implemented – it must be adopted by the municipal sponsor. A fire department that is interested in changing the point system must work with the sponsoring village, town, city or fire district to actually make the change.

Initially, this bill was meant to address the staffing challenge fire departments were facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many departments were limiting certain at-risk volunteers from responding to calls. Although this was for the safety of those volunteers, these limitations made it more difficult to earn points under the department responses category. However, this new law is not necessarily tied to the COVID-19 pandemic or any state disaster emergency (although it can be); it is a permanent change to the statute that can be adopted at any time.

We could see this new statute being helpful, or at least provide clarity in the following situations:

  1. Implementation of duty-crews or stand-by crews. Some fire departments have moved to a system where a certain group of volunteers are on-call at the firehouse during a scheduled period of time. Calls during that period could be assigned only to that group and not the entire department. Unless an incident required the entire fire department to be activated, calls handled by the duty-crew would count towards their response percentage, and the other volunteers would not be hurt (from a percentage response standpoint) by being unable to respond to these calls.
  2. For larger departments that have multiple fire companies that are dispatched individually. The actual point system category in the law is titled “participation in department responses”, but then the chart detailing the percentage requirement references “volunteer fire company.” Since “department” and “company” can sometimes be used interchangeably, it isn’t 100% clear if total number of responses should be (or could be) broken out by company or tracked for the entire department. This new legislation would make it clear that a LOSAP sponsor could calculate the minimum percentage of calls a volunteer is required to respond to based on their company’s total number of responses.
  3. For departments that respond to a lot of automatic alarms that don’t require the entire department to be activated. Many departments call these “chief’s investigations” or something similar because they do not activate the entire membership, but rather dispatch a chief to investigate the automatic alarm. If the chief determines that the situation requires the activation of the full department, then that step is taken. Again, we believe that under the old construct of the law an argument could be made to exclude chief’s investigations as a “department response” since the entire department was not activated. However, this new legislation would appear to make it clear that this can be done. (A second discussion about how to award the individuals performing the chief’s investigations with points is a topic for another time, and is also potentially impacted by this new statute.)
  4. For departments that may still have impacted department responses in early 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, or where COVID-19 may end up impacting responses again later in 2021.
  5. For a volunteer who joins or resigns mid-year. Although we aren’t certain this is a positive, it could allow a sponsor to require a volunteer to attend the percentage of the calls only during which he/she was an active member. Under the existing requirement, a volunteer must attend a number of calls that is based on a percentage of the total department calls for the entire year. This is difficult for those who join/resign mid-year or take a leave of absence. That doesn’t appear to be the intention of the statute, but it would seem like a possible interpretation.

PROPOSED OSHA 1910.156 FIRE BRIGADE STANDARD – YOU ARE NOT GOING TO LIKE THIS!!

October 15th, 2021

This proposal went silent, but I would not be surprised if it surfaced again, we will be on the lookout for it.

OSHA has proposed a revision to 1910.156 Fire Brigade Standard Attached) that would have significant impacts on how we do business as NYS Fire Districts. This is not a new initiative (been around since at least 2016) but it recently came off the sidelines and is trucking full speed ahead. We encourage you to read this proposed document and send comments that can be shared with the committee next Tuesday  (10/19/21). They have invited several Fire Officials across the country to take part in 9 hours of hearings next week. Dave Denniston is currently at the NVFC board meeting and they have three representatives here that are preparing the same comments. We need solid data on how this would effect your fire district. Looking for data on additional costs, strain on manpower and other facts that can be presented at the hearings on behalf of NYS Fire Districts. This committee has only 60 days to present the findings and is moving quickly.

Please send Dave Denniston at (ddenniston@afdsny.org) any solid concerns and data that hecan present. Comments like “this is crazy”, “it will never happen”, “it would destroy the fire service” will not hold any water with the committee. NVFC is trying to present that this could have a “significant impact” on smaller rural fire departments. It will obviously have significant impacts on any size department, but our chance to be heard here is under this “Small Entity Organization” The SBA is the group responsible to research and present written findings in less than 60 days now.

 

There may be other opportunities to be heard, you will be kept posted on when and where they may happen. Thanks for the quick turnaround on this.

DRAFT OF THE PROPOSED OSHA FIRE BRIGADE STANDARD

erp-draft-reg

QUICK SYNOPSIS OF WHAT THE STANDARD COVERS

Synopsis of proposed Emergency Resp Std 1910.156

SMALL BUSINESS ADVOCACY REVIEW PANEL – SMALL ENTITY REPRESENTATIVES

ER SER Issues Document – final

 

How to Start a Successful Junior Firefighter Program

August 24th, 2021

Blaize Levitan

One of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done is junior firefighting, both as a participant and later as an advisor. I can’t imagine my youth without the service and experience of junior firefighting, which profoundly affected who I am today.

Every department with the will and resources should start a program. And if you’re ready to do so, but don’t know where to start, you’ve come to the right place.

WHY START A PROGRAM?

Junior firefighting programs allow teens, usually between the ages of 14 and 18, to join their local fire department. When done properly, a junior firefighting program is an incredible opportunity for your community. Here’s why:

  • Teens that participate will have the chance at one of the most unique and rewarding life experiences. They develop leadership skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives, inherit important values of the fire service, build lifelong relationships, explore career opportunities, and have a chance to serve their community.
  • The department will benefit by having a group of young people who are willing to assist with a variety of tasks and responsibilities, access to this great recruitment tool and, as their training progresses, additional on-scene support.
  • The community benefits by having young adults engaged with public safety agencies and exposed to opportunities for social development, as well as benefiting from the community services participants can help sustain.

Watching young people transform into adults by passing on the knowledge and traditions of the fire service is well worth the time. Making a lasting impact on a young adult is a powerful and priceless experience.

ARE YOU READY TO COMMIT?

This is the most important question: Are you and your department ready to commit? To do this right, it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. It will take countless hours. When working with young people, there can be unique, time-intensive challenges. Keep this in mind as you proceed. That said, this is the fire service and you’re not alone. You will need the support of department leadership and a dedicated team committed to this program.

HOW TO START THE PROGRAM

The most successful way to approach the structure of a junior firefighting program is to essentially treat it as its own fire company, with its own drill times, meetings, events, training schedule and even its own junior leadership. You’ll want to integrate the program into the fire department, but the program requires independence to operate. Let’s review how to make this work.

Establish a team of advisors: First, the program needs adult leadership to serve as “advisors” to the program. This team will establish the structure of the program, training guidelines and schedules, and handle the administrative work. They will also serve as the liaison between the department and the program. A variety of firefighters can be called upon to assist with specific training and events, but you want a dedicated crew to lead the program on a day-to-day basis.

Create program policy or guidelines: The first assignment for the Advisor Team is to establish the governing policy creating the program. To start, rather than address every detail of the program, focus on who and how decisions will be made. Often, volunteer departments will need to consider bylaw amendments.

There are many factors to address in this process:

  • Membership: How will junior firefighters fit into the structure of your department? Volunteer departments often have different classes of membership with certain benefits and requirements. Do you want to establish a junior firefighting class of membership?
  • Application process: What steps do you envision to apply?
  • Program eligibility: Who do you want in your program? There are several factors to consider here:
    • Age: Standard participation range is 14-18; however, some programs allow participants to remain until 21, while others don’t let participants join until 16.
    • Residency: There is value in allowing non-resident participants to join your program, especially if there is no alternative in their community.
    • Participants: The program should be co-ed. Junior firefighting programs can be a great way to reverse the fire service’s abysmal record on gender diversity.
    • Health: Consider requiring a doctor’s note, as many school sport programs do.
    • Academics: Consider collecting high school report cards and requiring academic intervention if participants drop below a certain grade point average. Participation in junior firefighting should help develop young people into healthy and successful young adults, not inhibit academic achievement. Advisors or even fellow program participants can tutor those in need.
    • Criminal history: Do you plan to conduct background checks for program advisors?
  • Advisor onboarding: Will you onboard advisors so they understand appropriate behavior when dealing with minors? Dating or any type of relationship with participants outside of the program must be strictly prohibited.
  • Discipline: Who will be responsible for issuing discipline? This is important to navigate, as there is the Advisor Team as well as Department Leadership.
  • Sign-offs: Who is approving the minor’s participation? Participation by minors requires forms for parent/guardian sign-off, which should also include approvals for photo use on the department website or social media accounts.

Note :It is also important to leave some decisions for the program participants to make.

Start recruiting: Recruitment can be a challenge – but it will get easier with time. Websites and social media are easy ways to advertise and a great place to start.

Engage with the local public school system, which will have multiple options to connect you with interested participants. For example, you may be able to speak at an orientation event for students entering high school or you could include a flyer in the new year materials handed out to students. My former department used to park an apparatus in front of the high school on orientation days, and some of the junior firefighters would wear their gear and discuss the program with interested students.

Further, ensure your presence or inclusion in regular department recruitment operations, such as tables at farmers markets or community and department public events. Eventually, word of mouth will become one of the primary methods of recruitment for your program. Invite those interested to come and watch a drill or two to see what it is all about.

On-board your members: On-boarding is important. If you’re investing time and money into the participants, you want to be sure they clearly understand the commitments. Be upfront about the commitment and expectations. This is not just any club or organization; the members will be representing one of the most respected organizations in their community.

Start by developing a standard agenda or checklist that can be reused, then set up a meeting with the interested participant. By doing this, you can not only explain the program but also learn more about what they hope to achieve. Through this process, you may also learn that they have special skills that can benefit the department, such as social media engagement or website graphic design.

A good friend of mine in a neighboring department was highly adept in video editing as a high school student and made multiple amazing videos for his department while serving as a junior firefighter – and he’s a lieutenant now!

RUNNING THE PROGRAM

The specifics of every department’s program will be just as unique as every fire department in this country. Here are some general aspects to consider:

  • Develop a schedule: When does the organization meet? My suggestion is to pick one night per week, with three drills and one monthly meeting. If this is too frequent, consider every other week.
  • Participant leadership: The organization should have its own leadership structure. This is key for participants to develop leadership skills. They should hold an annual or biannual election to elect officers (e.g., president, vice president(s), treasurer and secretary, at least).
  • Monthly meetings: The club should hold an administrative meeting once per month that follows Robert’s Rules of Order, and requires reports from each officer to the membership, and minutes, too.
  • Program finances: The program should have its own budget, managed by the treasurer, with guidance from an assigned advisor who has actual signing authority. The department will need to make a financial commitment to start the program, and then through fundraising, the program can help sustain itself. Firefighting gear, insurance and similar expenses should be covered by the department. T-shirts, banquets and the like can be funded through a thoughtful budget and then fundraising events.

DRILL TIME

One of the most rewarding aspects of running a junior firefighting program is designing training. Training for junior firefighters should focus on the basics, fully preparing members to excel in Firefighter I training, if they so choose.

Here are some ideas to help get started:

  • Hydrant operations: This is what we trained on more often than any other topic. We set up hydrant relay races and held timed hydrant challenges.
  • Ground ladders: Practice throwing ladders over and over, a key skill that junior firefighters can provide on a fireground. Try this target practice exercise with ground ladders.
  • Equipment location: This is a good one for quizzes and mock responses.
  • Equipment use: Try Jenga or stacking cups with extrication equipment.
  • Radio communications: This is a good drill to engage members.
  • Major fire history: It’s important that new members know fire service history.

Encourage participants to attend and or participate in regular department training, too, especially if they are going to be responding to calls with firefighters. This helps build a positive rapport with firefighters.

Other training events include holding joint drills with other junior firefighting programs in the region. One exciting training event is to have competitions with other junior firefighting programs, relay races or muster challenges. For over a decade, the Connecticut Fire Academy has hosted an annual muster for junior firefighters from across the state. Also, Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts has hosted a historic firefighting muster challenge for junior firefighters, with a bucket brigade and hand-drawn pump.

RESPONDING TO EMERGENCY CALLS

Responding to calls is by far the most exciting aspect of the experience. If properly implemented, it is also a huge benefit to the department. Juniors don’t get complacent in firefighting basics because they are constantly training on them. It’s likely a junior firefighter can dress a hydrant and get water to a scene more efficiently than a 10-year veteran who may have not dressed a hydrant in years.

How junior firefighters respond to calls will depend on the design of your program. Clear standards must be met to allow for response eligibility. Develop a set of competencies that must be attained before response is allowed. Utilizing the concept of Firefighter I and Firefighter II, set different levels for participants to attain.

For example, a Level 1 junior firefighter must prove their competence in a basic set of competencies. Create a checklist that each participant can use to track their progress. Have an advisor sign off, confirming when each skill has been successfully demonstrated. Once the checklist is fully signed off, consider performing a final overall spot test. If they pass and have demonstrated character and discipline in line with expectations, they should be approved to start responding. Send a notice to ensure that they’re introduced to the rest of the department.

Level 2 can include a set of more advanced skills to encourage additional development. This level could come with extra benefits, such as an extended time of response or maybe some tools or a pager. Interested participants should be encouraged to become certified EMTs or emergency medical responders.

It’s important to consider participant ages and local, state and federal work rules. While you may allow participants to join at 14, it may be beneficial, based on labor rules, to wait for the emergency response age to be 16. Most states have guidelines and rules that apply to minors working or volunteering in the fire service.

Further, ensure that junior firefighters understand the confidentiality of what they may be exposed to on scene, as well as protocols regarding cell phone use and social media.

Remember, these are teens responding to potentially serious emergencies. There may not be a need to expose them unnecessarily to disturbing or traumatic situations. For example, there was an emergency in which a routine garage fire turned out to be a suicide, with a deceased individual that had barricaded themselves in the garage and then set fire to it. We didn’t need the junior firefighters on scene for body removal. If they are exposed to trauma, include them in critical incident stress debriefing. It’s best practice to reduce the exposure to trauma for anyone, especially young adults. Instill a positive approach to mental health in junior firefighting programs, and start their fire service career on a strong footing.

BOY SCOUTS EXPLORING

One cannot consider starting a junior firefighting program without discussing Exploring, the national program affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) that seeks to “teach important life and career skills to young people from all backgrounds through immersive career experiences and mentorship.” Exploring is implemented through local BSA councils and an interested organization can form its own post or club. Establishing your program as an Exploring Post is like buying ready-to-assemble furniture. It will provide you with operational guidelines, basic policy and a model structure. Notably, exploring programs provide some basic insurance, training for adult advisors, and background checks.

This all comes with a cost, though. There is a per head fee for both explorers and adults, as well as insurance fees and some minor costs depending on your local BSA chapter. Your program will also be affiliated with the BSA, which comes with its rules and policies, as well as to some extent, its branding. I recommend considering a Post at the start and then rethinking its value as the program stabilizes.

IT’S WORTH IT

There is no single right way to start a junior firefighter program. It’s not easy, but it is worth it. When I contemplate my years as a young adult, I can’t imagine them without the profound impact junior firefighting had on my life, as a participant and advisor. I carry this experience wherever I go. Even in my career outside of the volunteer fire service, I find myself leaning on the leadership skills and values I developed as a junior firefighter. That is surely something worth creating for others.

Model Code of Ethics for Fire Districts

August 19th, 2021

Do you have a completed Code of Ethics on file with your Board?  If you undergo an audit by OSC you will be asked for a copy.  If you haven’t constructed a Code of Ethics here is a template you can use.  Please don’t just fill in the name on the line, read and understand what the Code is saying.

code-ethics-local-governments

What are the Current OSHA/PESH Training Requirement for Firefighters: A Review

August 17th, 2021

Are your firefighters taking their annual OSHA/PESH training, and if not, who do you think is going to answer for the lack of training if something unfortunate happens to one of your members?  You, the Board of Fire Commissioners.

The pertinent OSHA/PESH requirements which require annual refresher training are those designed to maintain proficient firefighter knowledge, skills and abilities in according to 29 CFR (Code of Federal Regulation) 1910.156(c)(2) and increase overall firefighter safety in accordance with other applicable OSHA/PESH standards.

What is PESH?  PESH is the Public Employee Safety and Health division of the NYS Department of Labor.  The Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau (PESH), created in 1980, enforces safety and health standards promulgated under the United States Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and several state standards.  Public sector employers include:

  • State
  • County
  • Town
  • Village governments
  • Public Authorities
  • School Districts
  • Paid and Volunteer Fire Departments

The Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau responds to:

  • Deaths related to occupational safety and health
  • Accidents that send two or more public employees to the hospital
  • Complaints from public employees or their representatives

The Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau also:

  • Inspects public employer work sites
  • Gives technical assistance during statewide emergencies

The OSHA/PESH required annual training for all fire departments both career and volunteer is conducted so that all members can demonstrate knowledge and proficiency in the topics required.  Those topics include; Hazardous Materials/Emergency Response, Respiratory Protection, Blood Borne Pathogen, Right to Know, Workplace Violence and Fire Extinguishers (if required to use them) which most firefighters are required to do at some point of their career.

In addition to the above required training, OSHA/PESH Standard 29 CFR 1910.156(c)(2) requires that Fire Department Training Programs be designed to address annually the proficiency of each member’s knowledge and abilities as it relates to that member’s expected assignment. Such assignments may include Exterior Firefighter, Interior Firefighter, Apparatus Operator, Fire Officer/Incident Commander and Fire Training Officer. The annual refresher training should be comprised of current content and of sufficient duration so that each member can demonstrate knowledge and abilities in their assigned duties. It is important to maintain documentation of all training conducted to comply with these requirements While no specific time is allotted to the annual training or specific topics, this clarification is not intended to shorten the previously established timeframe, but to provide you with the flexibility to adjust the length of time spent on specific topics that your department feels are more or less necessary.

The OFPC Best Practices for Fire Department Training Programs document outlines subject matter that can be considered for annual refresher training for each member’s expected assignment. Fire Departments must document each member’s annual proficiency training to maintain knowledge, skills and ability proficiencies as related to that member’s expected assignment. This annual refresher requirement does not take into account special operations or activities that would exceed the requirements for this refresher training and should be considered separately based on the needs of the firefighters assigned to those activities.

Suggestions: In addition to subject area topics discussed in a firefighter’s initial training, additional topics for annual refresher training may include those listed below. It is also important to maintain an awareness of current fire service trends and advancements as they relate to your Fire Department and response area.

Some suggested topics may include:

  • Hazard Recognition
  • Fire Station Safety,
  • Response Safety,
  • Fire Scene Safety,
  • Protective Clothing,
  • SCBA Use,
  • Tools and Equipment.

Summary: The overriding consideration when determining the appropriateness of fire service training intended to address annual firefighter refresher training is:

  • Does the training relate to the expected duties and assignments of the firefighter;
  • Does it provide a means to refresh or evaluate competencies the firefighter is expected to perform; and
  • Does the training increase the level of safety for the firefighter.