Federal Government Increasing Influence on the Fire Service
Little by little, a step here and a step there, United States government involvement in the management and operations of the fire service throughout the nation is expanding.
Whether you are a chief of a metropolitan fire department or a volunteer fire fighter in a small town, the fact is that Uncle Sam is looking over your shoulder and influencing the decisions available for the operation of your department. At present, the many federal activities affecting the fire service are the product of haphazard developments budding from concern about specific problems—personal safety of the fire fighter, communications, hazardous materials, training, wages and hours of work, engineering of apparatus chassis, fire research, and the provision of emergency medical and rescue services.
The articles on the following pages survey the roles of federal agencies in many areas that affect the fire service. In some areas, the objective is improved and expanded services through the injection of federal funds into local fire departments for training and equipment, and in others, the objective is improved safety through the design of better equipment and through more intensive regulation of hazardous materials transportation and working conditions.
OHM Of immediate interest to all fire fighters is the impending introduction of the HI system to identify shipments of hazardous materials by land, air and water. The Office of Hazardous Materials of the Department of Transportation has designed placards with numbers that refer to pages in a HI system manual that will briefly state the hazards of each material and provide information about what should be done in the event of a spill, leakage or fire.
NASA The increasing use of breathing apparatus has led to growing concern about the quality of the air in the cylinders. The crew systems division at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Johnson Space Center in Houston has developed recommendations for breathing air compressors and purification systems. The division also is now involved in a field testing program for the breathing apparatus it has developed for the fire service. The field tests will determine whether the breathing apparatus is rugged enough for fire fighters and they are expected to pave the way for commercial manufacturing.
FCC The introduction of the 911 emergency telephone number system appears to be gaining momentum throughout the country, although only about 14 percent of the population now is covered by the system. Expansion of the system is receiving a hypodermic from physicians who point out that the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act of 1973 calls for the use of 911. An FCC spokesman urges fire chiefs to get in on the ground floor so that when their communities build up 911 systems, the systems will incorporate the features needed by the fire service.
DOT How much your next apparatus will cost and the extent to which you can specify some of the components are affected by standards established by the Department of Transportation through its National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Apparatus built after September 1, 1975, will have to meet a new brake standard that will increase the cost of axles and at the same time affect the specification of axle capacities. Engine emission standards and anticipation noise level standards are expected to add to the cost of engines and in some cases may even make an engine model specified in a contract unavailable by the time the apparatus is actually ready to be built, it is predicted.
NHTSA The DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s activities in helping to fund the training of emergency medical technicians and the purchase of ambulances are healthy and looking to a robust future. With the 81-hour EMT training course well accepted, the natural step toward an advanced EMT course is being regarded as an obligation. Highway safety funds are available for this course, which can run as long as 480 hours. A 16-hour vehicle extrication course is also available for funding with highway safety money.
OSHA As state plans are approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, fire departments become subject to state legislation that is at least as stringent as the national regulations promulgated under the authority of the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. State plans now in effect—and those that will be approved in the future—require fire departments to maintain injury and death records for fire fighters to be kept on OSHA-designed forms in accordance with OSHA regulations that seek nationwide uniformity in record keeping. Fire departments will find that in most cases their record-keeping practices will have to be changed to meet the new requirements.
HEW Regulations have just been published by the Public Health Service of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare for applying for grants authorized by the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act. Fire departments that plan to expand their emergency medical services or seek to institute such services are eligible to apply for grants. Funds are available for three steps of development of emergency medical services systems: (1) feasibility studies and the planning of such systems, (2) the establishment and initial operation, and (3) expansion and improvement.
These, of course, are not all the federal activities affecting the fire service, but they are the ones of major importance. The objectives and attainments of the fire services technology program of the National Bureau of Standards were described in an article in last month’s issue of Fire Engineering.
Further federal assistance to the fire service hangs on the fate of the Senate and House bills to establish a national fire administration and fire academy. The differences between the two bills are to be resolved by a conference committee and presented for final action in both houses of Congress.