Many may think that at the company-officer level, all you need to do is read and apply the SOGs and SOPs and discipline those who don’t abide by the letter of the policy. Nothing could be further from the truth. While there is a responsibility that comes with being the “designated adult” to ensure that all policies are enforced, this is just the beginning of your interaction with SOPs.
Typically, the fire service employs individuals who have sought out the profession and have a high degree of talent. We’re not a place where someone “just finds a job”, so we can assume our personnel prefer to do the right thing, provided they understand why it is the right thing.
This is where the company officer comes in to train personnel on SOPs. As someone who spends the bulk of the time with frontline personnel, but also interacts with chief officers, it’s the responsibility of the company officer to know the background of the SOPs, understand why each one exists and train his or her personnel on not only the letter of the SOP, but also its intent and meaning. As we continue to hire people in the information age, they want to understand, not just abide by the rules.
After training personnel, the company officer must ensure that the SOPs are enforced through practice. If we don’t live by the SOP, we need to change or abolish it. Otherwise, it builds confusion or creates a culture of ignoring SOPs.
While wearing a uniform shirt in the truck while on a detail isn’t likely to kill a person, the culture of ignoring administrative SOPs can lead to ignoring fireground SOPs, which can have dire consequences.
Be sure to enforce all of the SOPs equally, as they all have a reason. If you don’t understand the reason, seek it out, as your company can handle the truth. They may not like it, but we all understand bureaucracy if we have worked more than a couple of days in government. Be the sounding and information board.
Updating and Creating
Depending on the size of your organization, the company officer may draft many SOPs for the chief, as any good chief recognizes his department’s talent and will put them to work. After all, trench-rescue operations probably don’t occur daily in the chief’s office, so he needs those close to the action and up to date on current practices to ensure the SOPs are also up to date and provide the most efficiency and highest level of safety.
As you work through your days at the firehouse, make notes on each of the policies and how they interact with your daily operations. While many policies are created with the best of intentions, the world around the fire department continues to evolve; hopefully, your department will evolve as well, and existing policies may become obsolete. The worst policy in existence is the one you must ignore because it conflicts with reality.
The company officer must be ready for the regular review of the SOPs to ensure they provide relevant and up-to-date information that will keep their personnel safe and limit issues with enforcement of the policy.
Remember that in terms of enforcing policies, company officers are where the rubber meets the road; we must be prepared to train our personnel, enforce the policy and provide up-to-date information.