High-Visibility Vest Rule Finalized
Good News for the Fire Service Community
OFPC is pleased to report that with very little fanfare on June 15, 2009 the Federal Highway Administration
(FHWA) published a notice of Final Rule that adopts as final the Interim Final Rule that amends its regulations to
address safety concerns raised by the firefighting community regarding high-visibility safety apparel.
Back in November of 2008, there was a lot of confusion about the use of high-visibility vests at roadway incidents
due to a new Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Rule. The new regulation, Rule 634, stated that “All
workers within the right-of-way of a Federal-aid highway who are exposed either to traffic (vehicles using the
highway for purposes of travel) or to construction equipment within the work area shall wear high-visibility safety
That regulation created a dilemma for fire departments who were truly interested in protecting their personnel.
The training classes and material used by the Emergency Responder Safety Institute (ERSI) for years has
suggested the use of high-visibility garments for public safety personnel when working around traffic. NFPA
1500, the Firefighter Health and Safety Standard has included a requirement for firefighters to wear safety vests at
traffic incidents in the last two most recent editions. NIOSH Line of Duty Death Investigations have also included
recommendations for responders to wear highly visible flagger vests when exposed to moving traffic. In the fire
service community it was generally understood that the vests were not appropriate personal protective equipment
(PPE) for personnel who were actively engaged in firefighting operations because those garments are not designed
for exposure to fire, heat flame or hazardous materials. Rule 634, as originally published however did not outline
any exemptions for firefighters engaged in direct firefighting operations and that created the dilemma.
A cooperative effort was initiated by ERSI together with several national fire service organizations including the
IAFC, NVFC, USFA, and IAFF to petition the FHWA to provide an official exemption for firefighters and other
responders from wearing high-visibility vests when directly exposed to fire, flame, heat or hazardous materials.
ERSI suggested that FHWA should allow firefighters to wear turnout gear that complies with NFPA standards
when fighting fires. The organizations working together did a great job of educating and motivating other fire
service groups and personnel to write to the FHWA about the problem and to submit similar comments to the
national committee working on revisions for the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) to head
off a similar problem in that document.
Just hours before Rule 634 took effect in November of 2008, the FHWA published a Tentative Interim Rule that
provided the necessary exemption for personnel engaged in active firefighting activities. Now, effective as of June
15, 2009 the FHWA has published the Final Rule that permanently adopts the wording in the Interim Rule that
addressed the safety concerns raised by the firefighting community regarding high-visibility safety apparel.
The final version of Rule 634.3 states “All workers within the right-of-way of a Federal-aid highway who are
exposed either to traffic (vehicles using the highway for purposes of travel) or to construction equipment within
the work area shall wear high-visibility safety apparel. Firefighters or other emergency responders working within
the right-of-way of a Federal-aid highway and engaged in emergency operations that directly expose them to
flame, fire, heat, and/or hazardous materials may wear retro reflective turn-out gear that is specified and regulated
by other organizations, such as the National Fire Protection Association. Firefighters or other emergency
responders working within the right-of-way of a Federal-aid highway and engaged in any other types of operations
shall wear high-visibility safety apparel.”
Several fire service and emergency organizations have tried to circumvent Rule 634 by stating that if the roadway has been closed by Fire Police, Law Enforcement, or by fire department personnel, the use of the high visibility safety apparel is not needed. The use of high visibility safety vests is two-fold. First, the traffic safety vests are to make the responders more visible to vehicular traffic moving through or around the incident scene. The second use is to make the emergency responder more visible to other emergency apparatus and vehicles moving into or out of the emergency scene. Closing the road to non-emergency vehicular traffic does not make the scene as safe as possible. Fire apparatus, law enforcement vehicles, ambulances and tow vehicles will likely be moving in and around the incident scene during operations. Emergency responders on-the-ground need to be visible to operators of these emergency and necessary vehicles. The original federal documents related to this Rule and the final rulemaking process can be reviewed here: http://tinyurl.com/nwxu3p OFPC continues to monitor the revision process for the MUTCD and will keep you informed of any changes that affect emergency responders. We have been told that the goal is to publish that revised document before the end of the calendar year. When it comes to highway incident safety, we've got your Six!