NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 31, 2005

From 1979 to 2002, there was a 52 percent decrease in annual firefighter fatalities recorded at structure fires. One might infer that the decline was a result of efficacious Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations that protected firefighters from occupational dangers. But during that same time, the number of structure fires also decreased by 50 percent.

Today, firefighters are just as likely to die at a structure fire as before OSHA issued its safety regulations for fire brigades. What is worse, OSHA regulations may be leading to the decline of volunteer fire departments and may be a contributing factor in firefighterfatalities, says Marshall Stocker of the Cayuga Heights Fire Department.

  • Self-contained breathing devices and fire-retardant clothing adds at least 60 pounds of weight to firefighters, which contribute to the excessive physical stress and exhaustion that often precedes cardiac arrest.
  • Firefighters regularly train to work under zero-visibility conditions by using their breathing devices, but fighting fire under those conditions exposes them to life-threatening disorientation created by denser smoke.
  • Mandated protective gear has contributed to firefighters being more aggressive with interior fire operations; they also inhibit firefighters from using their ears as thermometers to sense when it is time to leave the building.

Furthermore, OSHA regulations have put greater time demands on volunteer firefighters, who make up 73 percent of all firefighters, due to compliance with more rigorous training requirements and fundraising (in order to purchase the mandated equipment), says Stocker.

Source: Marshall L. Stocker, "Suppressing Volunteer Firefighting," Regulation Vol. 27 No. 4, Cato Institute, Winter 2005.

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