What is NFPA 1500? Understanding Fire Protection Health and Safety
Since the first volunteer Bucket Brigade established by Benjamin Franklin in 1736, firefighting tactics have evolved. Knowledge gained, increased safety measures, new technologies and new hazards born out of modern construction materials are all causes for the historic changes of the firefighting industry. Traditional firefighting tactics involved daredevil driving practices, brazen entry into fully engulfed structures, and a priority of mission accomplishment over that of firefighter safety. In hindsight, we can see that these approaches display a misunderstanding of risk management and more times than not result in firefighter casualties that could have been prevented given the appropriate direction.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF NFPA 1500 FIRE HEALTH AND SAFETY STANDARDS
Throughout the history of the fire service, organizations and individuals have recognized the need for a standard set of guidelines to govern and direct their efforts while on-the-job. Advocates of a safe and professional approach to firefighting decided to come together and render some assistance. In 1977, a collaborative work by The Fire Protection Publications (FPP) and the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) released a publication such as the Essentials of Fire Fighting. This publication has and continues to serve as a manual used by fire service training agencies and departments around the world to train personnel to become firefighters. However, as time went on leaders started noticing that while the Essentials manual outlined a vast array of general procedures and safety guidelines, there was a gap in addressing a standard for specific injuries and diseases experienced by firefighters. In the late 1970’s, The National Fire Protection Association produced publication 1500, the Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program to provide the framework for a health and safety program for fire departments. The movement towards the standard was led by a committee chaired with the safety pioneers Alan Brunacini, former Phoenix Fire Chief, and Bruce Teele, senior fire service safety specialist of the NFPA. Teele recounted his thought process for putting together the publication 20 years later, “We had noticed a lot of the deaths and injuries were preventable, almost like low-hanging fruit,” Teele said. “It wasn’t the big catastrophic events; it was more the things like excessive speed when responding to fires, inadequate training of apparatus operators.” At the time Burnacini and Teele probably didn’t grasp what a profound effect the publication would have for firefighter safety for present and future generations.
SPECIFICATIONS OF NFPA 1500 STANDARDS
NFPA 1500 was established to specify minimum fire service criteria in a variety of areas including emergency operations, facility safety, apparatus safety, critical incident stress management, medical/physical requirements, member fitness/wellness, and use of PPE. The NFPA 1500 acts as a gold standard for OSHA concerns since the publication was written by a technical committee of individuals representing various interests from a wide spectrum of the fire service. Learning from previous publications that faced limited adoption and adherence in the firehouse, the architects Brunacini and Teele were careful to involve committee members of all ranks in the fire service including fire chiefs, company officers, firefighters, volunteer representatives, as well as representatives from various fire service equipment manufacturers.
At the publication’s core it provides firefighting personnel with a standard set of guidelines to establish, implement, and manage a comprehensive safety and health program. The NFPA 1500 is divided into ten individual chapters and 328 individual sections. The short list of basic requirements that the publication mandates firefighting organizations establish are:
- implementation of an occupation safety and health policy,
- appointment of a fire department safety officer,
- implementation of a training program to allow all fire department members to perform their assigned duties safely,
- proper maintenance of all vehicles and protective clothing/equipment (PPE)
- application of an incident management system for emergency operations, and
- issuance of a member assistance program.
A distinction between the NFPA 1500 and previous safety manuals is the establishment of a designated fire department health and safety officer. The publication guideline is remarkably different from previous manuals in that it sets up an accountable person to administer and adhere to the standard. The safety officer’s tasks include:
- ensuring that OSHA standards are met,
- accident reporting,
- reviewing and approving safety features of apparatus and PPE, and
- implementation and conducting safety training for the department.
In the data collected since the final adoption of the standard in 1997, researchers have cited that the appointment of the safety officer has dramatically increased the adherence to NFPA 1500.
The environment in which firefighters work comes with a sense of accomplishment that few have experienced. However, with the reward also comes a level of risk for injury or death. As we have learned over the decades these risks can be minimized through the adoption of safety measures, proper training of personnel tactics, and utilization of guidelines found within NFPA 1500. One of the architects behind the publication, Bruce Teele is hopeful for the continued adherence to firefighter safety: “Maybe there are still some people who looked back on the ‘good old days’ of the ’60s and early ’70s, but they’re being outnumbered by the new people coming through, who have the attitude of, ‘Why wouldn’t you wear the appropriate PPE?”. This attitude, coupled with the direction of proper guidance, has helped save countless firefighters’ lives, and will continue to do so for year to come.
PROTECTING AMERICAN FIREFIGHTERS FOR OVER 25 YEARS
For over 25 years, Boise Mobile Equipment has served our nation’s fire fighters by engineering state-of-the-art fire engines. The safety of our nation’s firefighters is our number one priority, so BME fire apparatus are built to protect fire crews by shielding them from the lethal elements they encounter when battling fires. Our fire trucks are engineered for rugged off-road terrain, built with reinforced TIG-welded aluminum tubular bodies and are tilt-tested to withstand horizontal grades of more than 32 degrees. BME fire trucks are trusted by fire service organizations like CAL FIRE and the USDA Forest Service, as well as numerous municipal fire departments across the country. In fact, many of our apparatus were used to help battle the recent ‘mega fires’ in California, Montana, Oregon and Idaho.
Our engineers and mechanics are highly trained, allowing them to manufacture custom vehicles built to any specs. We understand that one size does not fit all in the fire industry, as every department and organization needs different equipment to do its job. That’s why we are known for our ‘built-to-spec’ manufacturing process. Rather than the traditional ‘cookie cutter’ manufacturing process where each truck is built the same and additional specs are charged as add-ons, BME builds each of its vehicles custom to every department’s specific needs.
BME’s recent contracts with Forest Service and CAL FIRE allow for tag-on’s that could make the purchase of your new apparatus faster, easier and far less costly. For more information regarding the purchase of a BME fire apparatus, please contact us by phone at (800) 445-8342.
+ IFSTA. Essentials of Fire Fighting and Fire Department Operations: 5th Ed. Fire Protection Publications, 2008.
+ Thompson, Jamie. “NFPA 1500: Making Firefighter Safety Standard.” FireRescue1, 24 June 2008, www.firerescue1.com/firefighter-safety/articles/406234-NFPA-1500-Making-Firefighter-Safety-Standard/.
+ NFPA 1500: Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, 2007 Edition, NationalFireProtectionAssoc
+ Simpson, Timothy. “DEVELOPMENT OF NFPA 1500, STANDARD ON FIRE DEPARTMENT OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH PROGRAM, 1997 EDITION, COMPLIANCE PLAN FOR THE CLEARCREEK FIRE DISTRICT.” National Fire Academy as Part of the Executive Fire Officer Program March, 1 Mar. 2002.