THE UNION IS ALL OF US

 

Outdated gas-mask canisters made way for more effective SCBA equipment thanks to efforts of local unions and CPF. 

A HALF CENTURY FIGHTING FOR BETTER PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT

For most of the world, June of 1967 heralded the start of the "summer of love." For Ed Luttig, it meant something very different.

A Sacramento firefighter for only three years, the 31-year-old family man was working interior attack on a blistering apartment fire when his faulty and out-dated gas mask failed, allowing toxins to flood into Luttig's lungs. He survived, but suffered severe brain damage and was in and out of a coma for more than two decades before he died in 1990. 

Seared by the public attention, Sacramento quickly updated its dangerous gear, which eventually produced a $1.1 million out-of-court settlement from the manufacturer. But for Ed's local and state unions, the fight was only just beginning.

In 1975, inspired by Luttig's case, CPF -- then known as Federated Fire Fighters of California -- convened a state advisory panel chaired by Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522 member Cliff Haskell. The result: the nation's first comprehensive and permanent standard for firefighter PPE. 

Sacramento Firefighter Cliff Haskell was instrumental in the fight for better PPE for firefighters

Forty-one years later, the union is still on the job.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Agency – Cal-OSHA – has adopted a set of draft rule changes which, when implemented, will help ensure that all firefighters have PPE that stays caught up with the times.

“Current rules date back to 1985,” said CPF Health and Safety Director Kevin White. “These rules need to be updated so our members can get equipment that’s up to date and current with all modern safety standards.”

At the heart of the proposals is the need to bring the requirements into compliance with modern standards from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).  The new rules call for compliance with NFPA 1971 (structural PPE); NFPA 1977 (wildland PPE) and NFPA 1581 (PPE cleaning and maintenance). It also sets up a new standard for personal alert safety systems (PASS) that conforms with NFPA 1982. Other areas to be addressed include maintenance of SCBA and respiratory hazards during overhaul operations.

California Professional Firefighters has been working on updating the PPE standards for more than a decade. After being rebuffed because of cost issues in the late 2000s, CPF turned to the legislature.

In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 2146 by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner. The measure required that Cal-OSHA set up an advisory committee to review PPE standards and, if necessary, implement new updated standards. The measure also calls for a five-year review of PPE rules to ensure they keep pace with improving PPE technology. 

With Cal-OSHA having set out the proposed guidelines, the process turns to drafting specific rules. AB 2146 calls for these rules to be developed and ready for consideration by July of 2017.