The Elephant in the Room: Achieving NFPA 1500 Compliance

The services fire departments deliver to their communities today are nothing short of remarkable: EMS, technical rescue, haz-mat, prevention, public education, car seat checks, complimentary blood pressure checks, fall injury prevention programs, community paramedicine, and of course, the occasional fire. Fire departments continue to epitomize customer service.

Behind each one of these services are myriad standards, regulations, or industry-accepted practices that guide fire departments to deliver services effectively and safely. It is with safety in mind that I’d like to discuss a standard that can be quite the elephant in the room–NFPA 1500. It’s not so much an elephant we don’t talk about, but it is the pachyderm that addresses nearly everything about fire department safety. This can make NFPA 1500 an overwhelming standard to follow.

So, how do you eat this elephant? Simple: One bite at a time.

NFPA 1500 – Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety & Health Program is our industry’s consensus standard for all things safety-related. It is the foundational document that references many other NFPA standards. Its purpose is to keep everyone on the job healthy and safe. The inaugural edition came out in 1987 with Phoenix Fire Chief (ret.) Alan Brunacini at the helm. He was the first NFPA 1500 committee chair. Today, the 2013 Edition is the sixth iteration of this venerable document. A quick glance at the table of contents reveals just how much this document covers:

  • Training, Education, Professional Development
  • Fire Apparatus and Equipment / Driver Operators
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Emergency Operations
  • Facility Safety
  • Medical and Physical Requirements
  • Behavioral Health (A very big deal today!)
  • Occupational Exposure to Atypically Stressful Events

Okay, so pretty much everything, right? Do you know any department that complies 100 percent with 1500? It’s a tall order. So while perfection may be unattainable, excellence is always worth pursuing. I believe it was the same chief that chaired the first NFPA 1500 committee who said, “Done is better than perfect.”

With that in mind here are four thoughts for finding success with NFPA 1500 compliance:

1. Prioritize

Have leaders in your department (both formal and informal) assess your organization’s strengths and weaknesses regarding safety. Don’t be afraid to ask the troops what they think because their candor can be illuminating. A great document to get you started is found here (It’s also Annex B in 1500):

NFPA Checklist

2. Make Use Of Your In-house Talent

Every department has individuals that have a passion for certain aspects of the job. Find that engineer who is always tinkering with the trucks, he may be the perfect choice to develop an NFPA 1500 compliant program for apparatus. Tapping into these internal resources can create buy-in from everyone in the organization. It takes a team to make NFPA 1500 work.

3. Reach Out

Start with your neighboring departments. Ask them how they are achieving NFPA 1500 compliance. I know this seems obvious, but “egos eat brains” (yes, Brunacini again…I love that guy). It’s okay to not have all the answers because the solutions are out there, you just might need to seek them out. Just remember: you don’t need to go it alone.

4. Reach Further

The resources at the National Fallen Fire Fighters website are outstanding.

Also, consider courses offered by the National Fire Academy (NFA), the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE), and your local OSHA office. Many of the OSHA classes are free so give them a call to get started. Your local college or university also may offer the these Fire & Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) courses: Principles of Fire & Emergency Services Safety and Survival or Advanced Principles in Fire Fighter Safety & Survival. Both are excellent classes that can help jumpstart your NFPA 1500 compliance as a department.

It shouldn’t require breaking a really expensive piece of equipment, injuring one of our own, or having a line of duty death before we make changes to improve the troops’ safety. There is no better time than today to get started and no better document than NFPA 1500 to guide you toward safety excellence.

Good luck and stay safe.