In 1998, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration amended its Respirator Standard for fire fighters and other employees engaged in dangerous occupations that require use of breathing apparatus. The revised standard formally endorsed a safe staffing rule known as "2-in/2-out" that left no doubt about the vital link between sufficient staffing and fire fighter safety.
The 2-in/2-out regulation requires that whenever fire fighters enter a burning structure or other dangerous environment, they must do so in teams of at least two that operate in direct visual or voice contact. Additionally, there must be at least two fully equipped and trained fire fighters who remain outside the structure, who are capable of rescuing the fire fighters inside should they become disoriented, trapped or injured.
Unfortunately, most fire departments do not currently deploy adequate staffing to comply with this basic safety regulation. The result is that on-scene incident commanders are faced with the choice of delaying operations until additional fire fighters arrive or sending fire fighters into dangerous environments without sufficient back-up personnel.
In the face of the mounting evidence of a severe shortage of fire fighters, NFPA issued its first standard on minimum staffing for fire departments in the summer of 2001. NFPA Standard 1710, governing deployment and operations for fire and rescue departments, grew out of investigations into staffing related line-of-duty injuries and deaths.
Ten years in the making, NFPA 1710 established consensus standards for minimum safe staffing levels for basic fire fighting operations; for responses to tactical hazards, high hazard occupancies, and high incident frequencies; and for overall, integrated fire ground operations. If fully implemented, this standard would result in more effective and more efficient fire and EMS departments across the United States-and in our business that means lives saved.
OSHA's 2-in/2-out standard and NFPA 1710 clearly articulate the minimum staffing levels that fire departments need in order to perform emergency operations safely and effectively. Yet, as of today, jurisdictions that comply with these standards are in the minority.
The City of Mount Vernon only has 2 fire fighters per (first responding apparatus) and 1 Battalion to respond to all emergencies within the City.