Okay, before you jump on me about not doing a search, I did and most of the topics were 1-2 years old, and no one responded to them in over 6 months (at least the ones I looked at).
I am posting this here because I truly believe that SOG/SOPs are Firefighter Safety issues.
Our problem, as I am sure many others are, that you are fighting an uphill battle. I have had many discussions with our Chief and his response is "You will end up with a book that no one will read" or "You cannot create a Procedure/Guideline for everything".
There is also the discusion about whether you should create Guidelines or Procedures.
This is all important discusions, but the latest one we had was that our responders should use common sense. Of course common sense is not always common.
If you are a member of a volunteer department, what do you SOG/SOPs look like. How detailed are they, do they cover every possible incident, or do they cover general responses?
For the most part we have SOGs that are basic in nature, vs detailed. I prefer "guidelines" because the argument being things can and do change and a guideline offers more flexibilty than a procedure. Procedure I can see for something like a machine start up or something (Ie, open this valve, turn on this switch, pull this lever, etc). You really can't do such a thing with something as unpredictable as a fire, like you can say cut vent hole on roof, when horizontal vent may be a better option.
Our guidelines cover general responses like a vest is worn on all MVA scenes, unless engaged in fire suppression, but it would be difficult to make a guideline for every response. I also think leaving things open makes for a good training topic on those cold or rainy day or just some type of coffee table training. Pull the SOG out, read it, then how it would apply in a given scenario.
Your Chief is both naive and wrong...you not only should have SOG's but you must have them....How are your people supposed to know ploicies and accepted procedures in your department without them....AND...Hopefully it will never happen....but what if someone gets hurt or killed...? Hard to protect the Department if there are no guidelines or procedures to follow....All that you end up with is a bunch of cowboys doing whatever they want...Sounds like your command structure is pretty weak.....Stay safe.........Paul
"You cannot create a Procedure/Guideline for everything".
The term "everything" covers a broad area, but the SOG's should be specific for the common type; grass fires, structure fires both residential and commercial, Haz-Mat, etc. Every time a new situation comes up that isn't covered, add a new one. SOG's should allow flexibility. SOP's should not.
"You will end up with a book that no one will read".
Only if it is not enforced. Test them on it, and have them sign off that they have read them and agree to abide by them. Place this in their personnel file. Then if something happens, the department can show where they said they read them, and will alleviate a lot of liability for the department. Otherwise without them, the department has no defense.
Department safety is directly related to firefighter safety.
In one of the recommendations the following statement is made: "The victim’s fire department had not implemented any verbal or written SOPs for their members. An effective SOP can aid in the decision making process when on the fireground."
Not sure if litigation is pending or in process after this incident, but it's a pretty good bet there will be.
Our department has guidelines/procedures in place however we are currently revising and adding to them.
Not being a legal beagle... I thought I would at least mention that the trend seems to be shifting from using SOP's(Standard Operating Procedures) to SOG's(Standard Operating Guidelines).
The reason for this is that Guidelines are less restrictive than Procedures. This certainly deserves more research and general comment here but the assumption is that if you were to go to court, and were pressured about why you did not follow the procedure, EXACTLY, step-by-step, just the way it was written in the SOP's...
There is no way any of us can ALWAYS follow procedures exactly the way they are written because as we all know, no two calls are exactly alike. This is so much of an identified issue that if you have the opportunity to attend the USA Homeland Defense and Security COBRA (Chemical, Ordinance, Biological, Radiological) emergency response training in Anniston, Alabama. One of the key points they stressed, using live exercises to reinforce this more than once was the need to have someone read to you over the radio, step-by-step instructions for using a particular test kit for WMD agents. Concern was expressed that if you were doing the testing, and were challenged in court by an attorney representing a terrorist, we did not want to give defense counsel and reason to free their client due to technicalities with discovery and evidence collection. If you could testify that you were read instructions and that they were followed step-by-step, then the fact that you followed procedures could not be challenged.
Now go back to the fireground. Too many things are happening for you to follow a checklist on page 254 in the SOP Manual... This is why some departments and their city/county counsel are starting to recommend changing from SOP's to SOG's. I'd be curious to read future posts here to identify whether or not this is a national trend here in the USA.
In some cases, I'm willing to bet that the only reason a department has not changed from SOP's to SOG's is that they either have not been challenged in court yet or just didn't think about it. If it's never been an issue, then it's not something that is on the front burner so to speak... I probably would recommend for those out there that are chief officers to make contact with your legal counsel and ask them if your local laws and ordinances would reflect a less restrictive environment for company and chief officer's to make decisions following guidelines verses procedures.
The difference here is just one word. But one word can make your life a nightmare should you find yourself defending why you did something and you didn't follow the WRITTEN PROCEDURES. My personal opinion is that we should not be pigeon-holed when making command related decisions at an emergency incident. Using guidelines verses procedures is a lot less restrictive and easier to adapt to incidents that are dynamic, changing and unpredictable.
SOP's are those procedures that cannont be deviated from. Not even by officers. They are PROCEDURES or POLICIES. the organization's "LAW"! so to speak.
I think SOP's should be basics: for example.. All members, with the execption of the Officer In Charge of the incident, MUST report directly to the fire hall, and respond to the scene of the emergency by fire department apparatus or vehicles only. Nothing gray about that one. Simply speaking, no one goes directly to the call except the person who will be running the scene.
Another one: All officers and members must wear the appropriate P.P.E. to all emergency calls.
Something so basic, yet if allowed to be deviated from could lead to serious problems.
On the otherside, SOG's allow for the officers (and their common sense) to deviate from the written, to adopt to the practical. (if the common sense does not exist, refer back to the written)
Example: an SOG might read: for all fires, a hydrant must be connected and charged by the first due engine company.
However, in many cases, when the first arriving officer, completes his sizeup, and determines that a hydrant will not be required (to extinguish the garbage can fire, for example) he has the authority to made that decision and deviate from the written SOG's. That is what he/she is there for, to make those decisions. If there is no officer on scene, perhaps the first arriving senior firefighter, will assume command. etc. There is always someone in charge! there HAS to be. at ALL incidents.
The comment about "having a book that no one reads" is interesting. As long as the officers are required to read, understand, enforce, and follow what is written in the book, that is the most important part.
If all the firefighters are allowed to freelance and make their own decisions, the officers are not doing their jobs, and the command structure has either failed, or is non existant.. someone will be hurt.
Bottom line, I think there is a place in every department, big or small, for BOTH S.O.G's and S.O.P's.
As long as the S.O.P.'s leave no room for any other member to misunderstand what is required, including the consequences of violating those "policies" or "procedures", SOP's are important safety issues.
As long as ONLY THE OFFICERS, are permitted to deviate from the written S.O.G.'s, (and only when they have a justified reason to do so) and the command structure remains in tact, both SOG's and SOP's have a place in most organizations. Might be a good idea to consult with legal professionals when writing.
I love this site. So much to learn from others.
Stay safe everyone.
Cheers from Canada!
Thanks. I agree that you can have both SOPs and SOGs. The hard part is determining where an issue should fall. There are somethings that are cut and dry SOPs (e.g.; wearing PPE, wearing seatbelts, running lights & siren). Same with SOGs (like Brian stated, catching a hydrant).
I know we will have an issue with those "gray" areas.
I think I will try to start with creating SOGs, then when if we determine it should be an SOP, we move it over.
Thanks for all your input. One final question, does anyone have a template for creating Guidelines/Procedures that you are willing to share. I want everyone that we create to follow the same formate.