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CNY fire departments sound alarm on proposed OSHA regulations

Scott Willis
Firefighters Association of the State of New York 1st Vice President Eugene Perry speaks at the Oncenter June 12, 2024.

Volunteer fire departments in Central New York and across the state are sounding the alarm about proposed federal regulations that could negatively impact the communities they serve. Some of the state's nearly 1,700 departments could be forced to close, or impose higher taxes to cover the cost of meeting the new rules.

The changes to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's regulations are the first since the 1980s, and have been in the works for several years. They include more than doubling the number of hours for basic firefighter training, changes to medical screenings, and numerous operational mandates that will increase the cost of providing fire protection. David Denniston is with the Virgil Fire Department in Cortland County, and 2nd Vice president with the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York. He's testified before a Congressional subcommittee about the impacts of the proposed regulations.

"We need to do everything possible to increase the safety of our firefighters, and we're all in favor of a lot of things that are in this proposed standard," Denniston said. "What we find challenging is some of the logistics that are involved and some of the costs that could be involved to our communities.”

The changes apply to career and volunteer departments. Denniston says, however, OSHA didn’t consider the impacts, especially on small and rural departments.

"My town, I have a budget of $280,000," Denniston said. "So when I look at that, and as this has been proposed, it's kind of one-size fits all. So the City of Syracuse is going to have the same requirements that I have in the small town of Virgil with a $280,000 budget. It just doesn't economically work.”

Denniston says many departments must decide if they can meet the new standards.

“And if they can't, then they've got a decision to make," Denniston said. "We're either going to close the doors or we're going to continue to operate, knowing that there's a rule out there that we're not following, opening ourselves up for civil liability and some big problems down the road.”

The new regulations are a big topic at a the FIRE2024 conference underway at the Oncenter. Numerous firefighter associations want more time to express concerns and have asked for a third extension of the comment period from late July into September. If approved as is, some of the new rules take effect immediately, while others will take up to two years to kick in.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at