In a recent discussion with a friend regarding SOG's and SOP’s, an ugly mannerism reared its face, “we are just a Volunteer Department. Keep that in mind.”
WHAT THE HELL KIND OF STATEMENT IS THAT?!
This brings to mind another statement I have heard in passing more than once.
Too many rules are a bad thing to have.
Can we have too many rules?
Can rules hinder an operation?
Can a guideline be truly defined as a rule?
Most in the fire service are familiar with the strict operations regime of the FDNY and how their firefighter operations closely resemble the tight orchestration of a world class symphony. 1st Due Truck has a specific order of tasks that must be completed, this assignment is so detailed that tasks of individual seat occupied by the specific firefighter are defined. This continues for 2nd Due, 3rd Due, ect. Many balk at the idea of anything other than a large city department maintaining this training level and readiness. Frequently the “volunteer” label is given as a sad excuse to not hold themselves to this level of firemanship.
So the fire service developed the SOG. What is an SOG? SOG’s are generalized suggestions. They advise a path for you to follow when you arrive on a certain scene, but like a quarterback shouting an audible in play action, they allow you to deviate from course should Murphy throw you his usual curveball. Examples being, 1st Due Engine should pull a 2 1/2” attack-line for a fire in a commercial structure. There are many variables that come in to play when you define “commercial” structure. What if your 1st Due Engine arrives and determines the fire in the “commercial” strip mall is actually a small kitchen fire in the upstairs “residential” apartment? The 1st Due Officer is able to change his tactics with an SOG, maybe choosing a 1 3/4” instead for ease and speed of deployment, able to get a quick knockdown before the fire spreads to something bigger.
How is this different from an SOP? SOP's are procedures that are defined to be followed to the letter. Examples being, when arriving on shift, staff will be clean-shaven or when staff enters an IDLH, they must have donned an SCBA and breathing air.
So why do we need to have SOP's and SOG’s?
I would be willing to bet, most of us have been on a department where the working crews could not move a muscle until the acting IC told them what to do. Basic tasks like not pulling a cross-lay to the front door and not packing up until command reported that they needed to. It happens more often than we would like to admit, unfortunately. That garbage can not go on. The engineer should know where his hydrant is, the first back-step firefighter should know to pull the line, second back-step firefighter should know to grab the irons and prepare to force entry if needed. This is basic firefighting that should be second nature to anyone seated on that truck, right down to the right seat Probie. SOG's will allow your crews to be able to size-up their playbook and pick the play that is needed at that very moment.
Rules are important when maintaining certain levels of professionalism. For instance, how many of you have seen the shirt of the firefighters urinating on a house-fire and the platform of their monster-truck, ladder-truck is a pickup truck bed? What image does this portray to the public? From reactions I have witnessed, I can tell you it makes us look like a group of uneducated first responders with no care for professionalism. How would you feel if your 97 year old Grandmother was at home with radiating 10/10 chest pain and the First Responder showed up with that shirt on? Would it convey the image of professionalism that you would like her to see?
So here is the take home message. Any Volunteer Department has the ability to look and perform as professional as our “Career” Brothers and Sisters. They just need to strive from within. SOG’s are first small step in the direction of professionalism.
The following links are from outstanding Volunteer Departments throughout the United States.
(Links Courtesy of Traditions Training Group.)
All editing done by Tim Irving
Tim has been working the fire service since 2005 when he joined a local volunteer fire department as an explorer in high school. Tim was employed by Pullman Fire Department, in the state of Washington, as a Part-Time Firefighter/EMT-I while completing his Bachelor Degree in Political Science at Washington State University. He was a member of the HazMat team as a technician, an assistant instructor for Whitman County’s EMT-Basic Class and has been deployed to Haiti on multiple occasions working EMS. Tim is currently employed as an EMT for Rural/Metro Ambulance and works part-time as a Firefighter/EMT for Crescent Springs Fire Department in Northern Kentucky. He is currently finishing the ride time portion of NREMT-Paramedic certification and his Masters in Emergency Management.