AUTHOR: Chris Dubay

Latest action on firefighting PPE standard underscores the need to better understand and to participate in the standards process

In June of this year I wrote a blog explaining how individuals could get involved in the conversation about NFPA standards and firefighter PPE. That blog provides a good overview for reference, and this piece provides a further update related to one particular standard - NFPA 1971, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, 2018 Edition. Since that time, a few additional pieces of the NFPA process have occurred and I believe this is a good time to review the overall timeline of this issue and how the various parts of the process play a role. The topic at hand centers around the concern of PFOA’s in firefighter turnout gear.  Proponents with the concern around PFOA’s have focused on a particular test – an ultraviolet light degradation test that is used to accelerate aging of the moisture barrier as part of overall performance testing.  During 1999 and the early 2000’s there were significant concerns raised by first responders about the degradation of moisture barriers in the field and, as a result, the UV degradation test was added to the standard in the 2007 edition.  The committee statement read in part “… that moisture barriers should be tested for resistance to degradation by light and has proposed a new test …”  For reference, the test was added with a technical committee vote of 30-1 and a correlating committee vote of 21-0 supporting the addition of the new requirement. Since the 2007 edition and over the past three editions, covering 15 years, there have been no recommended changes proposed to modify or delete the requirements for this UV test. Enter the TIA In May of 2021, a Tentative Interim Amendment (TIA) was filed to remove the UV test from the standard.  A TIA is a part of the NFPA process where the standard may be revised on an emergency basis between its normal revision cycles.  It is “tentative” because, if it passes the technical committee, it only remains in effect for that edition of the standard and is automatically submitted as a proposed language for the next edition of the standard.  It is “interim” because it is happening in between the normal revision cycles.  TIA’s also must receive a three-fourths affirmative vote of the technical committee and correlating committee (versus the normal two thirds affirmative during a regular revision cycle) because amending a standard in this way means it doesn’t go through the usual two rounds of public review.  Both the Technical Committee and the Correlating Committee reviewed the submitted material as well the public comments received on the TIA.  The TIA failed to gain the necessary support of the Technical Committee on technical merit and emergency nature and failed to gain the necessary support of the Correlating Committee on both correlation and emergency nature. It is clear from the voting comments that there are strong technical views on both sides of the issue.  Those views are also quite diverse among the various interests on the committee.  Take just one example – those on the committee that represent the fire service.  Ten fire service representatives on the technical committee voted on the TIA – two voted in favor of the TIA and six voted against the TIA, with two votes to abstain.  See the complete ballot results and ballot statements from the technical committee members and for the Correlating Committee members. For the NFPA process, what is important to understand is that the technical experts – the Technical Committee members charged with reviewing the submitted information – did not have agreement on accepting the deletion of the UV test. Appealing to the Standards Council As part of the NFPA process, participants can appeal Technical Committee actions on TIA’s to the NFPA Standards Council.  The Standards Council is made up of 13 volunteer members (none of whom are NFPA staff), who oversee the NFPA standards development process.  The Standards Council is NOT a technical body.  The Council does not have the expertise that is found on NFPA Technical Committees.  They exist to ensure the integrity of the NFPA process and to ensure the Regulations for the Development of NFPA Standards are followed.  For more information on the NFPA process and the overall roles and responsibilities of the various bodies see “A Primer on how NFPA Standards are Developed and Revised, and by Whom.”   An appeal was made to the NFPA Standards Council asking them to reverse the decision and vote of the Technical Committee and accept the TIA.  After hearing the appeal and reviewing all of the evidence, the Standards Council voted to deny the appeal.   You can review more information on that decision in my blog posted in September. Throughout the processing of the TIA, several serious safety concerns were raised by firefighters and others on both sides of the technical issue. Ultimately, the NFPA Standards Council determined that the balanced consensus Technical Committee and the Task Group (chaired by a representative from the fire service) that had recently been established by the committee to address this issue were in the best position to review all the technical and scientific information and to determine a proposed technical solution that provides the vital lifesaving performance requirements of firefighter PPE, including the moisture barrier, and addresses the health risks to first responders. Petitioning the NFPA Board of Directors An additional, and extraordinary step in the NFPA process allows a petition to be made to the Board of Directors to review a decision by the Standards Council. In accordance with NFPA regulations, petitions to the Board are intended to address extraordinary circumstances where the integrity of the standards development process was believed to have been violated or action by the Board is otherwise necessary to protect the organization.  A petition was filed with the Board of Directors asking for a review of the Standards Council’s decision on the NFPA 1971 TIA. The petition asked the NFPA Board to override the decision of the Standards Council, the vote of the Correlating Committee, and the vote of the Technical Committee and to issue the TIA to delete the UV light degradation test requirement and test method.  On November 2, 2021, the NFPA Board Petitions Subcommittee reviewed the record and on November 4, 2021, denied the petition, upholding the Council’s decision and the results yielded by the standards development process. This is a good spot to pause and discuss the importance of the steps in the process.  In this instance, had the NFPA Board Petitions Subcommittee or the Standards Council upheld the petition or appeal, respectively, they would have substituted their technical judgement for that of the Technical Committee.  Remember that neither the Board nor the Standards Council are technical bodies.  Nonetheless, arguments made in the Board Petition, as well as the appeal to the Council, focused on technical evidence and an assertion that the Technical Committee was simply wrong.   The appeal was denied by the Standards Council and the decision was upheld by the Petitions Subcommittee not because the UV test is technically appropriate or not, but because in this instance neither the Standards Council nor the Board Subcommittee found reason to overturn the technical committee’s decision.   The NFPA process is an open, balanced process, where the responsible technical committees of experts appointed by the NFPA Standards Council make the technical decisions and the Standards Council and Board are appellant bodies ensuring that the NFPA process is followed in accordance with the Regulations Governing the Development of NFPA Standards. Where does the issue go from here? This issue is important to many stakeholders. The best way to effect changes in NFPA standards is by participating in the NFPA process and proposing changes to the standard.  I previously outlined this process in my blog from June 3, 2021.  The Technical Committee gives consideration and review to all public submissions that come through the process.  It’s also important to note that ANYONE (other than NFPA staff) can submit a proposed change to the text of the standard through the process. IMPORTANT NOTE - As of the writing of this blog – there are no proposed changes relating to this UV test for the next edition, nor are there any proposed changes addressing the use or prohibition on the use of PFOAs for the next edition. Anyone who believes the standard should be changed to address these topics is strongly encouraged to submit proposed changes (public input) to the next edition of the standard (which will be a consolidated standard as NFPA 1970). You do not have to be an NFPA member or on an NFPA Technical Committee to provide input.  Anyone (except NFPA staff) can propose a change to the standard by suggesting specific wording and providing a technical rationale through our online submission system, which is accessible at nfpa.org/1970next.  Time is short as the deadline for Public Input is November 10, 2021. In the following months, the Technical and Correlating Committees will consider all of the proposed changes received by the deadline and will develop a First Draft of NFPA 1970.  NFPA anticipates that the First Draft Reports will be posted for public review in the Fall of 2022. Throughout the process, the latest information on this standard can be found at nfpa.org/1970next.
A man looking at plans

An Open Letter to the Electrical Inspection Community

Many of you in this community are aware of the recent announcement by IAEI (International Association of Electrical Inspectors) to create a partnership/alliance with the ICC (International Code Council). Since making that announcement, NFPA has received numerous questions and inquiries from stakeholders in the electrical inspection arena as to what that means for the long-time relationship between NFPA and IAEI. We believe that it is important to be transparent about what the future path looks like from our perspective.  First, it is critical to understand that NFPA believes that a strong electrical inspection system serves a vital role in safety and is in fact a critical part of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem. A voice of the electrical inspection community that is focused exclusively on the role that inspection plays while carrying both policy and technical viewpoints, unincumbered by other interests, is vital to safety.  Over many decades, NFPA has supported IAEI as the organization for that unique voice. This support has been across a wide spectrum including donating $100,000 for the renovation of the IAEI headquarters, licensing of NFPA intellectual property for IAEI publications at no charge to IAEI, providing thousands of print copies of the National Electrical Code® (NEC®) (more than $500K worth for the 2020 NEC alone) which IAEI, in turn, used as a membership benefit, and providing trainings and an active presence at IAEI Chapter and Section meetings. Despite all the additional support, IAEI (as stated in their own words) is still faced with declining membership and declining revenue. IAEI initiated a “Request for Proposal” process a few months ago. We were pleased to present a response that we believed would: best address the revenue and cost related pressures that IAEI was feeling, provide a path forward where the brand of IAEI as the strong voice for the inspector could be maintained, and provide IAEI Chapters with a good deal of autonomy through a more localized membership model and where the Chapters could provide locally focused training – both of which could be used to generate revenue at the Chapter level. In the end, our approach was not selected, and we very much understand it is the prerogative of IAEI leadership to make the decision they felt most appropriate for IAEI. This decision, however, focuses IAEI in a direction that is less in-line with it being uniquely and singularly focused on electrical inspection. For NFPA moving forward, this means we need to adjust to ensure that those focused on performing electrical inspections have a direct connection to us and are able to bring that sole focus forward. NFPA is at the core of the electrical industry through our commitment to electrical safety and through our development of the National Electrical Code.  In order to provide a community for the electrical inspector and ensure that critical perspective is heard, NFPA will consider a number of actions including the acceleration of efforts to grow, and devote essential resources to, the NFPA Electrical Inspector Section that was established in 2018. The Electrical Inspector Section can be a place where the electrical inspection community has their own unique voice and will be a source from which to draw additional participants for the electrical code development process representing the enforcer community. We will also look to offer ways for locally-formed chapters to affiliate with NFPA in some way. If you are already a member of the NFPA, you can check out the Electrical Inspectors Section membership on our website. If you are not an NFPA member, look for future announcements on a special program tailored to your needs. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments for us as we move forward with this effort to ensure a strong voice for electrical enforcers reach out by emailing us. Your voice matters. We look forward to working with you and continuing to deliver value to the enforcer community as we have for many years.
PPE 1971

NFPA releases Standards Council TIA decision on NFPA 1971

A couple of months ago I wrote a blog explaining how individuals could get involved in the conversation about NFPA standards and firefighter PPE.  That blog provides a good overview for reference, and this piece provides new developments related to one particular standard - NFPA 1971, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, 2018 Edition. A recent NFPA Standards Council decision relating to NFPA 1971 has been partially referenced in many areas of social media and publications. Throughout the processing of the Tentative Interim Amendment (TIA), several serious safety concerns were raised by firefighters and others on both sides of the technical issue. Ultimately, the NFPA Standards Council determined that the balanced consensus Technical Committee (TC) and the current Task Group working on this issue were the best place to determine a proposed technical solution that provided the vital lifesaving performance requirements of PPE and the moisture barrier while at the same time addressing health risks to first responders.  NFPA Standards Council Decision The NFPA Standards Council voted on August 26, 2021, to deny an appeal requesting that the Council overturn the TC ballot results and issue TIA (No. 1594 on NFPA 1971 (2018 edition). The TIA was seeking to remove an ultra-violet (UV) light degradation test applicable to firefighter turnout gear. The appellant asserts that requiring this test causes the use of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the moisture barriers of turnout gear.  TIA No. 1594 was balloted through the Technical Committee on Structural and Proximity Fire Fighting Protective Clothing and Equipment and the Correlating Committee (CC) on Fire and Emergency Services Protective Clothing and Equipment in accordance with the Regulations Governing the Development of NFPA Standards (Regs) to determine whether the necessary three-fourths majority support was achieved for recommendation of issuance. The TIA failed to achieve the necessary support of the TC on both technical merit and emergency nature, as well as failed to achieve the necessary support of the CC on both correlation and emergency nature. When a TIA fails to achieve the recommendation of the responsible committee, the resulting recommendation of the standards development process is to not issue the TIA. On appeal, the Council accords great respect and deference to the NFPA standards development process. In conducting its review, the Council will overturn the results of that process only where a clear and substantial basis for doing so is demonstrated.  The Council found no such basis demonstrated in this matter. Here are a few key points from the decision: As stated above, the TIA failed on all levels, including the Technical Committee and the Correlating Committee. From the decision, “The TIA failed to achieve the necessary support of the TC [technical committee] on both technical merit and emergency nature, as well as failed to achieve the necessary support of the CC [correlating committee] on both correlation and emergency nature.” This is not a simple issue. The moisture barrier provides significant protection to firefighters from various threats, and if this test is eliminated the Committee’s position was that it was not known technically what other impacts there may be on firefighter protection. From the decision, “This TIA seeks to remove an ultra-violet (UV) light degradation test applicable to firefighter turnout gear. The appellant asserts that requiring this test causes the use of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the moisture barriers of turnout gear. Appellant expressed serious concern for health consequences to firefighters with continued use of PFAS in the moisture barrier.  Opponents to the TIA agree that PFAS should be removed or limited where possible, but express concern that removing this test without understanding of how removal will affect the moisture barrier could inherently be a serious risk to firefighter safety given the barrier is a primary protection from water and other common liquids, including chemicals and bloodborne pathogens encountered.”  The Technical Committee Chair formed a Task Group to address this topic in June 2021. The Council believes that the Task Group and the Technical Committee are in the best position (since they are the experts) to determine the best solution. From the decision, “The TC chair formed a Task Group in June 2021 to address this issue (and evaluate other issues related to hazardous substances). The Task Group membership includes topical experts, such as the appellant (IAFF), a representative from a nationally recognized testing lab, a turn-out gear manufacturer, and representatives from fire departments, among others. For these reasons, Council finds that the Task Group is in the best position to consider all technical and scientific information and to make an informed recommendation for the responsible TC’s consideration.”  The Council indicated that this is an important issue and urged the Task Group to continue its work. From the decision, “The Council notes that all parties in favor and against this appeal agreed that the TIA raises timely, important issues therefore the Council directs that the progressing Task Group work on this issue be expedited.  Additionally, the Council encourages the Task Group to submit a TIA for processing to the current edition and in parallel to the work being done within the next edition of the standard, if appropriate.” Background on NFPA Standards Process and NFPA 1971 NFPA does not write the standards. NFPA facilitates the development process for more than 300 different standards, including 114 that are fire-service-related. Technical Committees comprised of subject matter experts employ a transparent process that has relied upon diverse participation for 125 years. NFPA standards are typically updated every 3 to 5 years. NFPA standards do not specify or require the use of any particular materials, chemicals, or treatments for PPE. Those decisions are up to the manufacturer. NFPA 1971 specifies the minimum design, performance, testing and certification requirements for structural and proximity firefighting turnout gear including coats, trousers, coveralls, helmets, gloves, footwear, and interface components. The standard safeguards firefighting personnel by establishing minimum levels of protection from thermal, physical, environmental, and blood-borne pathogen hazards encountered during firefighting operations. NFPA 1971 does not, however, dictate what materials are used or how the manufacturer complies with the performance requirements of the standard.   Next Steps When the Task Group was established in June 2021, they were asked to submit their recommendations as public input on the next edition of the standard, which must be received by Nov 10, 2021. However, it is possible that the Task Group will continue to work beyond this date to complete or refine their recommendations. If a new consensus position is not reached in the First Draft stage, changes can still be considered in later stages (pending certain circumstances exist) or be adopted through a TIA, should one be filed. Public input to the next edition of the standard (which will be a consolidated standard as NFPA 1970) closes on November 10, 2021. Anyone (except NFPA staff) can propose a change to the standard by going online and suggesting specific wording and providing a rationale. NFPA anticipates that the First Draft Reports will be posted for public comment in the fall of 2022. The latest information on this standard can be found at nfpa.org/1970next.

Join the conversation on how NFPA standards address PFOAs in firefighter PPE

An updated blog on this topic can be found here. Currently, there is a lot of attention on the presence of PFOAs in firefighter PPE, the potential impact of PFOAs on firefighter health, and the role of NFPA standards in the continued use of PFOAs. But did you know that NFPA staff does not write NFPA standards? NFPA standards are written by volunteer technical committee members representing a diverse and balanced set of stakeholders. In fact, you play an important role in shaping the requirements of NFPA standards. Here are a few things you should know about how the NFPA standards development process works and how you can participate in the process. Open to the public. The NFPA standards development process allows anyone (except NFPA staff) to submit input directly to the Technical Committee that is responsible for each standard. As a requirement of our process regulations, the Technical Committee must then provide a response, which may come in the form of a revision (change to the requirements) or an explanation for why the standard was not revised. In addition, all NFPA committee meetings are open to the public, which allows anyone to witness the committee’s deliberations and, when requested, to address the committee directly. This exchange of ideas with people that are subject to or directly affected by the standard is at the core of the NFPA process, which is designed to be open, transparent, and consensus-based. NFPA 1971 is the current standard. NFPA 1971, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Firefighting and Proximity Firefighting is the standard for firefighter PPE. The 2018 edition contains the current requirements related to firefighter PPE, but it is coming up for revision. The Technical Committee will meet in early 2022 to discuss any proposed changes (Public Input) and consider any revisions that need to be made in the next edition of the standard. So how can you make your voice heard? How can you submit proposed changes to NFPA 1971? NFPA 1971 is being consolidated into a new document NFPA 1970. Going forward, all of the requirements and information found in NFPA 1971 will be combined with NFPA 1975, NFPA 1981, and NFPA 1982 to create a new document that will be known as NFPA 1970, tentatively titled Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting; Emergency Services Work Apparel; Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services; Respirators for Wildland Fire Fighting Operations; Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS); Breathing Air Quality for Emergency Services Respiratory Protection. (Note: The committees are likely to adopt a shorter title before final publication.) This means that you will be able to submit your suggested change(s), called public input, directly to the draft of the new, consolidated NFPA 1970 and that any proposed changes to the requirements of NFPA 1971 should be submitted to the new document NFPA 1970. The public input period will extend to early November 2021. If you are looking for more information about the emergency response and responder safety (ERRS) document consolidation project, please visit nfpa.org/ERRS. This page contains the updated, relevant information about the consolidated standards and the project schedule, as well as other information on the project’s purpose and goals. Once NFPA 1970 is open for Public Input, you will be able to submit any proposed changes you feel the Technical Committee should consider and why you are proposing them. STAY UP TO DATE - Sign-up for e-mail alerts at nfpa.org/1970. Signing-up for e-mail alerts is the best way to be notified whenever the page is updated. The page allows you to stay informed of the latest information about NFPA 1970, including the document revision history and the development of the next edition. In addition to automatic Alerts, you can also access the public input submission system, apply for membership on the Technical Committee, ask a technical question (for NFPA members and public sector officials only), find related news, or see any related products in NFPA’s catalog. Need any help or have any additional questions? NFPA staff is here to assist. As the neutral facilitators of the NFPA standards development process, we ensure that you are able to participate and that your voice is heard. Contact Chris Farrell or Barry Chase.
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NFPA Standards Council receives request from U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop new standard for community-based response to drug overdoses (CReDO)

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has sent a New Project Initiation Request to the NFPA Standards Council asking for the development of an ANSI-accredited standard for community-based response to drug overdoses (CReDO). This new standard would address the necessary functions and actions related to the prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery to drug overdoses by any community, AHJ, facility, and/or organization that handles these types of incidents. According to the DHS request, NFPA was selected to develop the proposed CReDO standard because of its open-consensus codes and standards development process. The DHS request states: "To address this national public health emergency, we need a multi-level community response to prevention, identification, response and recovery to these overdose events. Communities need to recognize and share best practices and tools to tackle the issues within their respective jurisdictions. It requires consistent training, terminology, tools, systems, frequent updates of current information, and overall coordinated management of response actions. A national voluntary consensus standard would bring together all vested stakeholders to tackle this problem together. It would include participation by federal, state and local government, law enforcement, EMS, fire, hospitals, poison centers, professional organizations, laboratories, addiction treatment programs, drug prevention experts and private sector partners." As first responders have become increasingly relied upon to provide emergency response to a growing range of incident, NFPA has worked to support their roles and responsibilities by developing standards, trainings, resources and initiatives that help them perform their work as effectively and safely as possible, wherever they're required to go. Development of our ambulance and active shooter are just a couple of examples of first responder issues we've addressed in recent years. When the NFPA Standards Council receives requests to develop a new standard, comments are solicited from as many groups and individuals as possible to gauge levels of support or opposition. This feedback ultimately enables the Council to determine whether or not to begin standards development.  We fully recognize that there will be many points of view and perspectives to be considered on the proposed CReDO standard. NFPA is now soliciting public comments, which can be provided to the Standards Council at stds_admin@nfpa.org through December 31, 2019. We encourage everyone to actively participate in this process to make sure all voices and opinions are heard.

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