What Firefighters Should Know about Their Legal Rights

What Firefighters Should Know about Their Legal Rights?

Legal 12 February 2024 5 Mins Read

As a firefighter, you will probably know the meaning of living on the edge. You put your life on the line every day, stepping out knowing that you may not return to your loved ones again. Firefighter fatalities on duty in the US reached 96 in 2022, up from 70 in the previous year. The highest number of on-duty firefighter deaths was recorded in 2001, at 443, due to the 9/11 attack.

Besides the death threat, firefighters constantly grapple with the risk of injuries, from burns to toxic exposures, slip-and-fall mishaps, and structural collapse. According to statistics, the main injuries are related to smoke inhalation (29%), strains or sprains (23%), pain (11%), burns (7%), and lacerations or cuts (5%).

Despite these risks, firefighters play a vital role in protecting lives and property and safeguarding communities from fire-related emergencies. The good thing is that you have some legal rights to ensure fair treatment and protection in various scenarios. Knowing them gives you peace of mind that you will not have to settle for less.

In this article, we will explain the legal rights you should be aware of as a firefighter to safeguard your interests.

Labor Laws and Employment Rights

Labor Laws and Employment Rights

Labor laws and employment rights protect the interests of workers in the workplace. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has more than 180 federal laws in place for workers across all domains, including firefighting professionals. These mandates and regulations cover about 150 million workers across 10 million workplaces in the country. 

They include rights related to working hours, fair wages, overtime compensation, and workplace safety. Being aware of labor laws is essential to know your rights regarding employment conditions, disciplinary actions, and grievances. You can negotiate better working conditions and advocate for fair treatment if employers fall short of expectations. 

Here are some of the key points of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that firefighters should be aware of: 

  • The FLSA states that almost all employees in the United States should receive the federal minimum wage for all the hours they have put in, along with overtime pay. The overtime pay should not be less than one and a half times the regular rate for hours beyond 40 in a workweek. 
  • Since Section 13(a)(1) of FLSA does not exempt firefighters, they are also protected by the minimum wage and overtime provisions of FLSA. However, firefighters should have detailed knowledge about their rights regarding work hours, overtime pay, and compensatory time. This is because the FLSA regulates how long firefighters can work before overtime must be paid.

Health and Safety Regulations

Health and Safety Regulations

Firefighting is an inherently hazardous occupation, exposing professionals to the risks of physical injuries and occupational illnesses. Therefore, you should be familiar with health and safety regulations governing your work environment. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that all firefighters should be properly trained and have proper equipment, tools, and protective clothing. 

Here are a few important OSHA regulations that firefighters and fire departments in the USA must adhere to: 


OSHA’s 1910.156 standard outlines the requirements that all fire brigades (except airport crash rescue and forest fire fighting operations), private or contractual type fire departments, and industrial fire departments must fulfill. 

It states that the employer should make sure that all the employees ae physically fit to perform firefighting duties. 

Employees with epilepsy, known heart disease conditions, emphysema and similar issues should not be allowed to take part in any fire brigade emergency activities.

Training and Education

According to OSHA’s 1910.156(c)(1), the employer is required to provide all the training and education related to the duties and functions that firefighters are expected to perform. This Standard also states that firefighters should be provided with training and education before the emergency activities. 

Moreover, OSHA’s 1910.156(c)(2) states that all training and education should be conducted frequently to ensure that each member of the fire brigade can perform their duties in a satisfactory and safe manner and without harming other members of the fire brigade. 

All fire brigade members are required to go through training and education on an annual basis. In addition, members of the fire brigade who are responsible for the interior structural fire fighting must undertake training and education sessions on a quarterly basis.

1910.156(c)(3) further states that the training and education program provided by the employer should be comparable to the program offered at fire fighting schools such as New York State Department, Washington State’s Fire Service Training Commission for Vocational Education, Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, Georgia Fire Academy, and Louisiana State University Firemen Training Program.

Equipment and Protective Clothing

As per OSHA 1910.156(d), the employer must conduct maintenance and inspection of all firefighting equipment on an annual basis. This will ensure that all the equipment is up to the mark and ready to be used for emergency fire brigade operations.

Further, there are regulations related to hazardous materials handling and emergency response protocols. Besides the risk on the ground, long-term exposure to toxins in firefighting foam is a grave concern as it can cause fatal diseases like cancer. TorHoerman Law notes that firefighters can legally claim compensation for AFFF manufacturers due to the failure to warn regarding the risk.

According to the latest AFFF lawsuit update, the proceedings have become even more serious, beyond the scope of firefighter injuries. Connecticut’s Attorney General has sued 28 chemical manufacturers, alleging contamination of the waters and natural resources of the state with PFAS chemicals. Besides being an occupational hazard, PFAS exposure through firefighting foam has emerged as a public health threat.

Legal Protections During Emergencies

Firefighters may encounter legal complexities regarding their actions and decisions in high-pressure situations during emergency response operations. For example, you may not be able to save lives in some situations. You may end up facing potential liability issues, but legal protections such as Good Samaritan laws and qualified immunity may come to your rescue. 

Good Samaritan laws limit liability for people providing voluntary care and rescue in emergencies. They mitigate the risk of legal liabilities for firefighters and other first responders engaged in rescue response. Similarly, qualified immunity shields them from civil lawsuits when doing their duties in good faith and within the scope of their official responsibilities. 

Privacy and Confidentiality Rights 

Lexipol notes that fire departments and their members may face issues for breach of confidentiality or privacy. That is because they routinely handle sensitive information and interact with people in distressing situations. At the same time, they may have to disclose information if they receive a request for it from the higher authorities. 

You must understand laws and regulations related to patient confidentiality, privacy rights, and data protection to maintain trust and professionalism. For example, you must comply with HIPAA regulations when handling medical information. Additionally, you should maintain the privacy of individuals involved in incidents and safeguard personal data collected during emergency responses. 

In conclusion, firefighters should know about their legal rights to protect their interests in various situations and navigate their roles effectively. Staying informed and being proactive will enable you to uphold your legal rights while fulfilling your duties to serve and protect your communities. On the other hand, you may face legal hassles if you fall short of this critical information. 


Shahnawaz is a passionate and professional Content writer. He loves to read, write, draw and share his knowledge in different niches like Technology, Cryptocurrency, Travel,Social Media, Social Media Marketing, and Healthcare.

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