Published on May 2, 2016.

Firefighter Qualifications

In your recent “First Responder” column [“Helping Hands,” March/April], Ken Willette discussed the “two-tiered approach to firefighter qualifications.” The issue before the NFPA 1001 Firefighter Qualifications Committee is the potential certification of firefighters who do not meet the current standards, but who could be used in an outside or support role.

I have heard this argument on numerous occasions and I am continually confused by this issue. The article portends that somehow firefighters who want to serve in a support role are not allowed to do so because of the NFPA standard. My confusion is that the NFPA 1001 standard is a voluntary standard and is only mandatory if the authority having jurisdiction decides to make it mandatory at the local level. No firefighter, regardless of qualifications, is barred from the scene of an emergency unless the local fire department makes that decision. If a fire department chooses to use firefighters who do not meet the national standard for whatever reason, the department has the right to make that choice, and I fully agree with that.

The question is not what a local fire department may need to do to staff its operations—rather, the question has to do with what the “national firefighter qualification standard” should be. What is being requested is that the national standard change so that under-qualified personnel may then be nationally certified to the NFPA professional qualifications standards. In my opinion this is a decision to be carefully considered, as decades of work have created a very successful firefighter national standard that is the envy of many other occupations. To nationally certify firefighters to a less stringent standard has no justification, in my opinion, and is a path down a very slippery slope that I do not think we want to follow. An attempt to try to twist the “national standard” to meet the needs of a few fire departments, so that they can say their personnel are nationally certified, is an abrogation of the professional qualification standards that the several hundred thousand currently nationally certified firefighters should not stand for. I could go into the operational and organizational issues that a two-tiered standard would create, but suffice to say they are numerous.

The issue before the NFPA 1001 committee is what the national standard should be, not what is convenient for a few local jurisdictions. Again, jurisdictions that want to use “outside” or “support” firefighting personnel on emergencies can already do so, and in fact do so every day. Many frame this as a volunteer issue, but I disagree; in my opinion, in many areas the training necessary to be certified is nonexistent or not available in the format it should be in to properly train volunteer firefighters. My state of Maryland has thousands of nationally certified volunteer firefighters and officers to prove this.

Perhaps this is really a training issue and not a firefighter certification issue. Let’s work together to build up the firefighter certification systems and make them available to all, instead of diminishing them by lowering the standards.

Steven T. Edwards, director Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute University of Maryland College Park, Maryland

I read with great interest your recent “First Responder” column [“Helping Hands,” March/April]. As a leader in a fairly large combination department, I am seeing the same degradation in volunteerism that you reference in the article, and for the very same reasons you cite—namely, the conflict between personal commitments, jobs, etc., versus the increasing time and effort needed to become a fully certified firefighter. Even with all of the resources at our disposal (full training staff, volunteer intake process, dedicated volunteer recruitment and retention coordinator, etc.), we have experienced a rapid erosion in firefighting volunteers here in Chesterfield County, Virginia.

To reaffirm the questions posed in your article, we are indeed interested in and have been having discussions about what the next generation of fire service volunteers look like. We no longer believe that this is a ‘one size fits all’ situation. We would like to see what a firefighter certification looks like that would provide us with trained volunteer firefighters who could safely and effectively serve in a support capacity and not require the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to operate in high-hazard environments that are immediately dangerous to life or health.

We look forward to the work that the NFPA 1001 committee does with this issue as we seek to resolve this growing problem.

Rick Edinger, interim deputy chief– emergency operations Chesterfield Fire & EMS Chesterfield County, Virginia

Ken Willette responds:

Thanks to both of you for your thoughtful responses. This change in our profession seems to be more than a one-off—I hear it more and more and it appears to be an emerging trend.

Our standards development process is one path forward, but its timelines can sometimes lag behind the needs of our stakeholders. As to the question of addressing the issue through certification rather than qualifications, both training and certification are impacted by NFPA 1001, and the technical committee needs to hear the many voices of the fire service to better understand the impact of its actions on firefighter professional qualifications and the firefighting profession.

Addressing LNG concerns in NFPA 59A

In your recent cover story on liquefied natural gas [“Full Tank,” March/April], the following quote appeared in reference to NFPA 59A, Production, Storage, and Handling of Liquefied Natural Gas: “The universal answer around the room: The code is solid.”

I would like to make some suggestions that I think would make NFPA 59A a bit more solid. I agree that the United States, and in particular the Northeast, will depend more on LNG in the future. As a consequence, it is more important than ever to insure that all potential shortcomings are addressed.

In paragraph 13.18.3, “Emergency Procedures,” the standard states that “each LNG facility shall have a written manual of emergency procedures that shall include the types of emergencies that are anticipated from an operating malfunction, structural collapse of part of the LNG facility, personnel error, forces of nature, and activities carried on adjacent to the LNG facility, including the following:

    “(1) Procedures for responding to controllable emergencies, including notification of personnel and the use of equipment that is appropriate for handling the emergency and the shutdown or isolation of various portions of the equipment and other applicable steps to ensure that the escape of gas or liquid is promptly cut off or reduced as much as possible;
    “(2) Procedures for recognizing an uncontrollable emergency and for taking action to ensure that harm to the personnel at the LNG facility and to the public is minimized;
    “(3) Procedures for the prompt notification of the emergency to the appropriate local officials, including the possible need to evacuate persons from the vicinity of the LNG plant;
    “(4) Procedures for coordinating with local officials in the preparation of an emergency evacuation plan that sets forth the steps necessary to protect the public in the event of an emergency.”

I would suggest that the same requirement apply to any vessel that may transport LNG to or from that facility. Currently the facility may be located a mile away from a hospital, but a vessel travelling to or from that facility could pass within 100 feet of a hospital. This is particularly problematic, because water could make any breach much worse than a land-based emergency.

I would suggest that any emergency personnel who are part of the plan to minimize the harm to the public be provided the equipment and training that they need to fulfill their role.

I would also suggest that it is the facilities’ responsibility to ensure that all potential areas that need to be evacuated in the event of an emergency can be evacuated as needed, and that this method to alert the public and execute the evacuation be part of the plan.

Joseph Fleming, deputy chief Boston Fire Department Boston, Massachusetts

The editor responds:

Thank you for your letter on LNG and NFPA 59A. The best recourse is to suggest proposing changes to the standard as part of the next revision cycle. NFPA 59A is curently open for public input, and you could consider submitting changes for the technical committee’s consideration. For more information on the standard, visit the NFPA 59A document information webpage.