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Rules of Engagement: Adopt the Rules as Standard Operating Procedures

For many months, we've been discussing the IAFC's Rules of Engagement, which were developed by the Safety, Health and Survival Section (SHS) and endorsed by the IAFC board of directors at FRI in 2011. Since then, many other national fire service organizations, such as the Fire Department Safety Officers Association, have also endorsed the Rules.

The multiyear development process involved several major national fire service organizations, including:

  • International Association of Fire Fighters
  • National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health
  • National Volunteer Fire Council
  • National Fallen Firefighter Foundation
  • Fire Department Safety Officers Association
  • Other fire service stakeholder organizations

Many members of the project team had experienced a firefighter fatality in their organization, which brought a personal passion for preventing future fatalities to the development of the Rules of Engagement.

During development, the Rules were presented at several conferences and posted on the IAFC website. A large amount of public comment was received and considered by the project team as the Rules underwent eleven drafts. With a multi-organization consensus process used in the development, the Rules are now considered a standard of practice. This author is aware of at least one litigation case where the Rules of Engagement were referenced.

It's incumbent that a fire chief and a fire department’s management team ensure the safety of all firefighters working at structural fires. All command organization officers are responsible for their own safety and the safety of all personnel working with them. All officers and members are responsible for continually identifying and reporting unsafe conditions or practices and taking corrective action.

The importance of this reporting is demonstrated in research conducted by Paul LeSage, assistant chief (ret.) of Tualatin Valley (Ore.) Fire and Rescue Department. His research determined that 74% of accidents had warnings signs and happened because someone failed to intervene. The Rules of Engagement bring a structured process for assessing risk and reporting unsafe conditions and practices.

The Rules of Engagement can and have prevented injuries and fatalities. Continued success in preventing serious injuries and fatalities can only occur if fire departments adopt the Rules. They’re designed to improve firefighter safety and survival on the fireground for both the incident commander and firefighters. They also allow for smarter fireground operations. They serve as an excellent guide to company officers and incident commanders for assessing risk on the fireground. All fire departments should adopt the Rules and insert then into the department's standard operating procedures (SOPs) and training programs.

SHS has developed support materials to help fire departments develop SOPs based on the Rules of Engagement. Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting: Increasing Firefighter Survival (PDF) contains 250 pages of support material. A large section explains the intent of each Rule, which will be very helpful in developing SOP language.

Once a fire department adopts the Rules into procedures, the department must deliver a training program on the Rules to all members, with special emphasis on the department's officers. The document above also contains a lesson plan for each Rule, which can be helpful in training department members. Also included in the lesson plans are NIOSH firefighter-fatality investigation reports and Near-Miss reports related to each individual Rule that can also be included in the training program.

Another helpful item is the Rules of Engagement poster, which can be posted in prominent locations in fire stations and other fire department facilities. The attractive color poster is available from the Fire Service Book Store (1-800-342-2034). The posters are free; but there's a charge to cover shipping costs.

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