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Our opinion: Disastrous proposal for departments

A new proposal by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration that would revise 40-year-old firefighting safety standards would be devastating for volunteer fire departments – particularly rural departments already struggling to recruit new members.

The federal standards would require equipment to be replaced more quickly and boost training and physical qualifications. Beginning firefighters now have to have 68 hours of training. The federal rules would increase that to 197 hours. Since training is offered in three-hour increments, it would take much longer to get a new recruit to the point they can actually help fight a fire. Training to be a fire chief will also increase – meaning many rural fire departments could be looking for new leadership. Interior firefighting regulations will also change, with anyone going into a burning building required to take Firefighter Assist Search Team training. That course is currently optional, but volunteer fire department officials worry expanding FAST training to volunteer firefighters will disqualify most departments’ most experienced members.

OSHA regulations for volunteer firefighters haven’t changed in 40 years. Some change may be needed, but OSHA can’t require 40 years of training changes to happen overnight. Volunteer firefighting organizations fear the proposed OSHA regulations will lead to an exodus of volunteers from the already thin rosters many rural fire companies currently have. If it does, the OSHA regulations will have achieved their goal – volunteer firefighters will be safe. But that goal will only be achieved because there aren’t any volunteer firefighters. They’ll be home when the alarm bells ring.

And, if that isn’t scary enough, just look at the bill to hire professional firefighters in rural areas. Some Warren County communities don’t want to pay for mutual aid responses by Warren city firefighters. That cost, we can assure you, is much lower than having to add professional firefighters throughout the county.

These federal regulations need to be thrown out.

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