Preparation: Key to Success for Volunteers

There are many ways YOU can achieve fireground success for your department. By following the key points outlined here, you can achieve that success. What are your department’s goals, and what does it wish to achieve?

The Vision Statement

Success begins with having a vision and sharing that vision through a published statement. Form this vision through conversations, and then write it down as a focal point for the department and publish it for the community. This provides guidance and gives department members a mindset of the direction in which the organization is moving. Make methods, plans, and timelines an integral part of your vision and ongoing conversations. Not only is a vision statement important for members, but it is equally important for the community you serve, allowing your citizens to gain insight into the department that serves them.


Next, the department must put in place standard operating guidelines (SOGs)-living documents that are continually updated as changes occur; this will become the “playbook” (much like a playbook for a basketball or football team) from which members will operate. SOGs also provide a framework for mitigating an incident based on call type, response, or equipment. It is key to put a plan in place.

SOGs provide a great starting point for training. When training is built from SOGs, it allows the incident commander (IC) to “call the play” and have the members execute it. SOGs set the stage for a fireground that reduces freelancing and overwhelming the IC-two key aspects that can lead to fireground failure.

Mutual-Aid Agreements

In the past, departments tried to mitigate incidents without mutual aid. This mindset led to civilian injury, death, and loss of property. Make mutual-aid agreements specific regarding which resources are needed. It is critical for an IC to know and understand the available resources neighboring departments can provide to aid in fireground decision making. It allows the IC to prioritize and coordinate tasks, which equates to a safer fireground for personnel. Last, the mutual-aid agreement should include how much and what type of training the two departments will conduct in tandem to achieve fireground success.


All firefighters will admit that preplanning is a critical aspect for fireground success, so part of your preparation must involve preplanning. This is especially true for departments with lower call volumes. Preplanning is not limited to just the businesses within the fire district; it also includes structures, problem areas, response routes, water supply locations, and the department’s response in the event of a natural disaster. Preplanning will help keep the department organized and from becoming overwhelmed by the incident. You lose effectiveness because of poor decision making and failing to prioritize the incident. By having a plan in place prior to the event, volunteer fire departments can effectively and methodically work through the incident with greater success.


Communication is another critical element. The chief or his designee must sit down with the communication center and address what and who responds to the incident and its location. The chief must monitor the dispatch responses and work toward the goals outlined in the vision statement. Conversations with the communication center should include staffing and resources, which vary among departments. Some departments may only need one additional department for a structure fire; others may need two. This makes things easier when the appropriate resources are responding initially rather than playing catch-up and having to wait. Think about your fire district-do the run cards match the need? If not, the chief must make the necessary changes.


The most critical element of preparation is training. Is the department training program proactive or reactive? Training programs are crucial and must be included in the vision statement. In too many cases, fireground failure can be linked to training programs that do not prepare department members. So, the training then becomes reactive.

Volunteer fire departments must be proactive in their training. Train each member so he has the skill set to understand the department’s SOGs as well as the ability to perform the job. Repetition is critical. When a firefighter arrives at the incident, the IC can call the play and the firefighters can perform it. Design training to be repetitious so you can create muscle memory in your firefighters.

Training must be a mix of classroom and hands-on. It has to be realistic, fundamentally sound, and habit forming. This is truly where the department must be willing to put in the time and effort. SOGs, mutual-aid agreements, and preplans are all great, but if the firefighters cannot perform the skills necessary to mitigate the incident, everyone loses.

The challenges volunteer firefighters face become more dynamic every day. However, you can achieve success! Be determined and be prepared. The obstacles that volunteers overcome and their level of professionalism make the volunteer fire service what it is today.

RICHARD RAY is a 24-year fire service veteran and a captain for the Creedmoor (NC) Volunteer Fire Department. He is also a career firefighter captain with the Durham (NC) Fire Department. He is a certified instructor and has been a classroom speaker at FDIC International.

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