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Lawmakers: EMS, firefighters challenge worsened by OSHA proposal

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Already facing significant challenges, emergency service organizations such as fire and EMS departments could face tougher operations and recruitment if the Department of Labor finalizes a new OSHA rule, a North Carolina congresswoman and her colleagues say.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and 23 other members of Congress have urged Julie Su, the record-setting unconfirmed nominee for commissioner of the Labor Department, to withdraw the rule proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Lawmakers say the rule’s safety intent is respected, but will do far more harm than good.

The proposal would replace the fire brigades standard and broaden “the scope of entities covered beyond firefighting service to include entities that provide technical research and rescue and emergency medical services.”

The Committee on Education and the Workforce in the House of Representatives, led by Chairwoman Foxx, says it is a “one-size-fits-all” proposal that “mandates massive administrative burdens and costs that will worsen existing challenges in recruiting and retaining emergency responders.”

Wake County, the largest county in North Carolina at more than 1.1 million in the 2020 census, added 10 more ambulances and staff to run them in fiscal year 2025. It added more than $30 million to a budget exceeding $2 billion.

County growth makes it an ongoing task to add firefighters and emergency medical crews to keep pace.

Conversely, in more rural areas, such as The Center Square reported in Pennsylvania, funding and recruitment are so challenging that the immediacy of help arriving after a 911 call ends – the “cold, hard truth” as Adams Area Fire District Lt. Taylor Goodlin said – is not guaranteed. State lawmakers there have worked to increase reimbursement rates and flexibility of ambulance crews.

Emergency services wouldn’t be the only industry hurt, according to lawmakers. In the letter, they say private sector workers in manufacturing, oil and gas, and warehousing benefit from tailored emergency response-related standards that have proven effective in preventing accidents. The new requirements in the proposed rule “would do little to enhance safety in these workplaces and would simply create more paperwork,” the letter reads.

Congressional members also say Su and OSHA are burdening individuals in the entities with “increased medical and physical requirements.” Volunteers with experience and skill could get disqualified, they say.

“Local governments, municipalities, and private sector employers are doing everything they can to recruit and retain qualified emergency responders,” the letter concludes. “The federal government should support this effort rather than exacerbating existing challenges as the proposed rule would do.”

The letter dated Monday doesn’t include any Democrats. In addition to Foxx, the other 23 Republicans include fellow North Carolinians Chuck Edwards and Richard Hudson; Pennsylvanians Glenn Thompson, Dan Meuser and Scott Perry; New Yorkers Brandon Williams, Andrew Garbarino, Elise Stefanik and Michael Lawler; South Carolinians Ralph Norman, Joe Wilson and Russell Fry; Indiana’s Jim Banks, Erin Houchin and Larry Bucshon; Florida’s Aaron Bean; Illinois’ Mike Bost; Utah’s Burgess Owens; Idaho’s Russ Fulcher; Michigan’s Tim Walberg; Georgia’s Rick Allen; Missouri’s Eric Burlison; and Wyoming’s Harriet Hageman.

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