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Fire group pushes costly minimum staffing.

Cities could be required to have a minimum of three or four personnel assigned to each piece of fire apparatus operated by their city under standards now being considered by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Organized labor in the fire service is strongly advocating adoption of such standards.

NLC policy opposes adoption of or giving status to fire standards of bodies not having adequate representation of local elected officials. This NFPA committee has no elected local officials among its 30 members, being composed fire management, organized labor, manufacturers and suppliers of fire equipment, the federal government, insurance industry and various research bodies.

This issue of local control in staffing is frequently the most contentious issue in many fire service bargaining sessions. Mandatory standards could place cities in a fiscal straight-jacket with the annual cost of a firefighter approaching $50,000 (including fringe benefits). Conservatively estimating two personnel to provide round the clock full-time coverage could make the incremental cost of such standards $100,0000 per year per piece of fire apparatus.

The issue of staffing levels has generally been left to be determined by city management or through local bargaining agreements. While a NFPA standard by itself is not automatically binding on a city, cities can expect to confront such a "nationally adopted standard" in litigation, bargaining and workers compensation hearings. Some states and cities may also adopt NFPA standards automatically by reference into their statutes and codes.

Establishment of such national minimum staffing requirements for fire apparatus will be considered this Thursday, January 16th in Nashville, Tennessee by the Technical Committee on Fire Service Occupational Safety and Health of the National Fire Protection Association.

The Committee will be considering this subject as part of their continuing work on standard NFPA 1500, which deals with firefighter safety.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has taken a position, "supporting local determination of staffing levels based on local conditions, in lieu of the establishment of a single national minimum standard."

In a statement announcing the opposition of the Fire Chiefs to this standard their President, Chief Jim Halsey of Troy, Mich. said, "The issue of staffing must be driven by what firefighters in particular companies are expected to safety perform at the scene of an incident. There is no question that certain fire and emergency operations require a minimum number of properly trained and equipped personnel in order to be conducted safely. How personnel are transported to the scene should be based on local considerations. What works for a large metropolitan city may not be realistic or practical for a small rural community's department."

Further in their statement the Fire Chiefs pointed out that the type of structures in the community, the degree of sprinkler or other automatic protection present within buildings in the community and the differences between volunteer and paid departments can influence judgments about appropriate staffing levels.

Comments on the proposal could be directed to the Committee Chair Chief Alan V. Brunacini, City of Phoenix Fire Department, 520 W. Van Buren, Phoenix, Ariz. 85003 and Martin Henry, NFPA, 1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy, Mass. 02269.
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Title Annotation:National Fire Protection Association
Author:Peterson, Doug
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jan 13, 1992
Previous Article:Congress returns to budget challenge: key leaders plan big changes to aid 'middle class.'
Next Article:Weekly editor Raymond Dick retires from NLC.

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