Thanks to Tommy Hofland for sending this article over. Tommy brings us an in-depth look at an SOP driven management style.
While my fire companies’ operations and our opinion of SOPs is in line with and supportive of the concepts expressed in this post, I was not able to clearly and concisely communicate a complete philosophy regarding SOPs until recently. Due to the generosity of the Puget Sound chapter of the Fraternal Order of Leather Heads I had the honor of attending a line of duty death funeral for a fallen brother in Maryland this winter. While staying with an friend who works for the Fire Department of District of Columbia, I was exposed to their SOP’s. The F.D.D.C. has written exceptional SOPs which lay out a detailed, thorough, explanation of not only how they operate at fires, but why this system works and how it addresses the multitude of challenges seen on the fire ground. I must give extensive credit to the men and women of the F.D.D.C. for both the inspiration and some of the exact wording for this post. Viva La Nut House!
When people are trapped and fire conditions severe, there is no time for rapidly arriving first alarm companies to formulate an incident action plan, communicate assignments, and evaluate the effect. Firefighters have to know what to do and what everyone else on the alarm will be doing. Their lives depend on it. Uncoordinated ventilation, hose lines stretched to the wrong location, and failure to assign forcible entry, proactive laddering or pick up the hydrant for the first due engine are all reasons firefighters have died in the line of duty.
The fire ground is no place to come up with a plan!
The NFPA defines Standard Operating Procedures as “An organizational directive that establishes a standard course of action.”
Management styles for fire ground operations are divided into two categories: those that are standard operating guideline driven, and those which are incident management system driven. A primary factor that determines a departments fire ground management style is the time it takes for units to arrive on scene. Departments that have long arrival times usually choose an incident management system style and those with short arrival times choose a standard operational guideline management style.
Departments that are capable of safely adopting a SOG driven management style allow for the rapid deployment and accountability of resources without direct instruction. This rapid deployment of resources provides the greatest possibility of overwhelming the incident problem; operating on multiple floors of fire simultaneously, and effecting numerous rescues without negatively effecting the safety or effectiveness of the fire attack. Incident commanders on full responses or box alarms will not have to assign units to specific tasks, because the SOG already assigns these units to a position and objective. This frees the incident commander to plan for and direct greater alarm units in mitigating complex fires and responding to unexpected problems or firefighter emergencies.
Well staffed Fire Departments have units strategically located throughout their city or district. Because of this, the difference in arrival times is frequently less than the NFPA standard eight minutes (if not seconds) between the first company to arrive and the last. In addition to rapid response times, well staffed cities are capable of placing multiple engines and trucks on scene with a first alarm strength of at least 15, if not more that 25 personnel.
Standard Operating Guidelines function effectively because units are assigned specific tasks based on the type of building occupancy and the fire companies respective response order. Units are guided by standard operating guidelines but have the flexibility to react to situations that present themselves at the scene of a fire. Any unit which will not be able to complete their assigned tasks, as directed in the SOG, must notify the incident commander as soon as it becomes clear that their assigned task will not be completed. The incident commander can then give orders to ensure that all critical assignments are covered.
All units shall be assigned:
A position for their apparatus.
A responsibility for water supply or laddering.
A specific operating location within or around the building.
Specific tasks to be performed.
Responsibility for reporting a specific size up and benchmarks.
The assignments in the SOGs shall be strictly adhered to and the company officer shall be held accountable for compliance unless good reason or judgment warrants and prompt communication with and permission from the incident commander is received.
The ICS system shall be used on all responses. The ICS system shall be expanded using Divisions or Groups when more than seven operational companies are engaged in fire combat in or around the fire building. This will maintain a manageable span of control and allow for the safe addition of greater alarm companies onto the fire ground. Whenever a Battalion Chief is assigned to an alarm he is specifically designated with the authority and responsibility for ensuring the correct, effective, and safe implementation of the SOGs to mitigate any fire or emergency.
To effectively manage the response and emergency incident, the first due Battalion Chief will be in command of the incident and is the formal incident commander. First arriving companies are responsible for implementing the standard operating guidelines, making or directing critical adjustments to the guidelines, and communicating all deviations or problems to command.
Non-critical adjustments to the standard operational guidelines shall be directed to the incident commander in the form of a recommendation. The first due battalion chief, as incident commander, is responsible for the appropriate resolution of all emergency responses on which he is assigned, regardless of whether he has arrived on the scene or is responding.
Except when permitted by pre-plan, special provision, and orders en-route; all units responding on a Full Response or Box Alarm shall take their assigned position as based on their assigned response order. Companies may arrive on scene out of order by a few seconds. Despite technically arriving out of order, companies are responsible for their assigned duties and shall not assume the duties of another unit unless ordered.
Units shall make no effort to beet another company to an alarm and shall yield right of way to any company listed ahead of them on a response. Second due engines shall yield to first due companies, and third or fourth due engines shall yield to second due trucks. If a company will be significantly delayed for any reason, they must notify the incident commander.
Operations at the scene of a fire differ depending on the type of occupancy, building construction and the location and severity of the fire. The standard operational guidelines are intended to address the incident priorities of R.E.C.E.O. taking these and other factors into account. All members shall assist in mitigating the emergency by completing their assigned duties. Assigned duties are critical components of safe, effective, and efficient fire ground operations within the overall strategic plan.
Accountability of all personnel and companies is maintained through discipline. The SOGs describe the location, team member, supervisor, and assignment of all members on the scene. With out this system the ability to warn, aid or respond to a member or company in distress is significantly decreased. All members operating in a IDLH atmosphere must be backed up, have alternate egress provided for them, and be supported by other teams of firefighters who are available to assist them incase a firefighter emergency occurs. Through adherence to SOGs, companies can ensure that they are both providing and receiving this critical, mutual, support in the initial minutes of an incident as well as knowing the resources will be available to handle a more significant structural event, should one occur.
Engine companies will operate as one team towards their assigned goals. Engine companies perform rescues by placing their hose lines in a position to protect rescue operations and then extinguish the fire. Engine companies will operate as one team, in one location while inside the structure.
Members of engine companies shall be assigned specific duties based on their riding assignments.
Officer- Supervise the safe, effective operation of the company.
Driver- Establish a water supply and charge appropriate hose lines.
Nozzle- Advance and operate a hand line.
Back-Up- Assist with hose lays and assist with the advance of the hand line.
The truck company is responsible for the rapid location and removal of victims within the fire building and assisting the engine company in extinguishing the fire. To accomplish these goals, the truck companies must be capable of accomplishing a wide variety of tasks quickly, including: laddering, forcible entry, search, and ventilation. A truck officer should not have to give detailed orders because truck personnel should know, in advance, what their assigned tasks are and be able to perform them when needed. The truck company officer will not be able to directly supervise all members of the company because the truck personnel will be operating throughout and around the fire building. Truck company members must be capable of working in teams within or on the building or alone around it without direct supervision. Standard operational guidelines allow the truck company officer to know the location of all members, what they are doing, and when he should hear from them. Truck company members operating remote from their company officer shall be assigned specific size up responsibilities and tactical benchmarks which must be promptly communicated to their officer and command.
The members of truck companies shall be assigned specific duties based on their riding assignments.
Officer- Work with the barman to ladder and force entry on the front of the building, locate and confine the fire, and conduct a search of the fire unit.
Barman- Ladder, force entry, and horizontally ventilate on the front of the building and search the fire unit.
Driver- Ladder the roof and prepare to conduct vertical ventilation if needed, provide a roof assessment and 360 degree size up from the roof if safe to do so, assist with laddering and horizontal ventilation.
Tillerman (Outside Vent)- Check the basement, ladder, force entry and horizontally ventilate at the rear of the building, and then perform exterior searches behind and above the fire with the assistance of the driver or assist with vertical ventilation.
Specific company assignments, based on response order, vary based on building occupancy types.
-Row or Town House fires
Common preassigned variations to the standard occupancy based fires are effected by the fires location, intensity, and building construction.
-Top floor fires with heavy cockloft involvement
-Attached porch and garage fires
Standard operational guidelines ensure that there is rapid coverage of the front, rear, fire floor, basement, floor above, roof, and top floor by both engines and trucks. The specific location and assignment varies by fire department practice, history, methodologies, and district lay out, particularly the availability of alleys. Common variations are caused by staffing, preconnect vs bulkbed operations and reverse lay vs forward lay water supply operations.
One possible model of operations would be as follows for a detached house fire.
1st Engine: Approach the front and pull past, preconnect fire attack, hand stretch supply line.
1st Truck: Park in the front, interior search of the top floor and horizontal venting and laddering.
2nd Engine: Park on hydrant, supply first engine, assist with the first hoseline.
3rd Engine: Lay into the alley, pull past or short of the fire occupancy, stretch a back up line to protect the search on the floor above the fire.
2nd Truck: Park in the alley behind the fire occupancy and assist the search and conduct vertical ventilation.
4th Engine: Pick up the 3rd Engine’s supply line, park on a hydrant and supply the third engine, stretch a back up line to the base of the stairs.
While there are many ways of coordinating the simultaneous forcible entry and egress, laddering of all sides, checking the basement, establishment of coordinated horizontal and vertical ventilation, attacking the fire, protecting the search and stairs with completely redundant lines, establishing two independent water supplies, and searching above and behind the fire; SOGs provide well staffed Fire Departments with the fastest, most effective means of rapidly placing numerous companies in the right place, at the right time, with the right tools to mitigate the emergency for our citizens and proactively get ahead of potential problems and hazards we encounter to keep our members safe.