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The Kitchen Table Debrief – MAYDAY! The Goodness Spec

The Kitchen Table Debrief – MAYDAY! The Goodness Spec

Confession #2:

We in the Fire Service create most of our own obstacles!

1. We don’t want documentation (SOPs/SOGs in particular)

Because I do a lot of project-oriented work, I am more comfortable with documented procedures (protocols) or processes specifying work parameters (SOPs/SOGs), rather than “winging it”. Therefore, from my early days on the department I had been looking for some documents outlining the proper way to do things and the overall goals for what needed to be accomplished.

They didn’t exist. We had no formal written procedures for anything so we mostly relied on “tribal knowledge”, and mentoring. We had organizational by-laws, but like all by-laws, that document was more focused on the Fire Department business side of things, not operations.

I was lucky that I had a very knowledgeable and talented Fire Captain to teach me, but without a set of documents to refer to, all the training was experiential, as the opportunities arose. When I asked why we didn’t have SOPs, I was told (Confession Number Three:) we didn’t want anything in writing that we would be held accountable to.

This logic is of course, crazy.

To test this, simply thumb through any number of NFPA documents, or read any NIOSH LODD report. One shows you that SOPs/SOGs should be in place; the other shows how departments are measured against a standard of performance regardless of what documents may or may not be in place. In order to define our professional standard of performance, we need to adopt, and apply, SOPs.

Now let me address the discussion around “SOP” and “SOG”, since this appears to be a sensitive subject to many Firefighters.

I found a great write-up on this topic in a document developed for, and distributed by, the Federal Emergency Management Agency – United States Fire Administration (FEMA/USFA). The document is titled “Guide To Developing Effective Standard Operating Procedures for Fire and EMS Departments.” In the first chapter, they address the issue of SOP versus SOG (Standard Operating Procedures versus Guidelines).

In essence, they say the term chosen by your department is not important and courts tend to assess liability on factors such as:

• What systems you have in place to develop and update your SOPs/SOGs,

• If they are compatible regulatory requirements and national standards,

• What are your unique department needs if any

• Your training and documenting of competency

• Procedures to monitor performance and ensure compliance

Since, according to FEMA and USFA, there is little difference between SOP and SOG, I’ll use the term “SOP” for the rest of this article for convenience and to save electrons.

SOPs are the documented guidelines that describe how the department is supposed to run. Once documented, they become an invaluable training adjunct to ensure training is performed with predictable, consistent results and within the department’s guidelines.

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