SOGs Must Be the Line In the Sand That Never Gets Crossed

Riley and Schultz 4-Hour Pre-Conference Workshops: Monday, April 7, 1:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. 

“SOGs Must Be the Line in the Sand That Never Gets Crossed”

 Students in Monday’s workshop “Company Officer Development: Red Flags on the Fireground,” were taught how to identify “red flags” on the fireground that indicated impending danger or risk. Instructors Chief Richard Riley, Clearwater (FL) Fire & Rescue, and Chief (Ret.) Larry Schultz, District of Columbia Fire Department, cited among the “red flags” the following and some ways to approach them:


  • · Fires that don’t react to standard actions:
    √ Gain a better understanding of what the expected behavior of smoke/fire is based on the type of building construction.

    √ Use frequent CAN (conditions, actions, needs) reports to enhance communications that allow for early recognition of problems.

    √ Use of command teams to enhance the chance of recognizing problems before they become too big to resolve.
  • Fires in concealed spaces such as walls, voids, ceilings, attics, and truss troughs. In such fires,  companies may report high heat conditions but are unable to locate fire;  the fire may be in the wood in construction types that have knee walls, especially balloon-frame and cape cod-style homes; or there may be truss construction that allows for large open areas that can enhance the rapid spread of smoke and fire.
    √ Request frequent CAN reports from interior companies.

    √ Provide specific tactical directions to companies assigned to open up void areas and have the companies repeat back your directions.

     √ Be aware that companies inside the immediately dangerous to life or health environment will be operating with a lack of situational awareness as to what is being seen from the outside. “The safe and effective management of firefighters in an IDLH environment is task number one for the IC, stressed the instructors. “Today’s fireground environment moves faster than ever before and can quickly overwhelm the best of ICs. It is critical to set up your command post for success and to insist on the concept of command teams.
  •  Extended periods of firefight with little to no progress. The indicators include  multiple requests for more handlines, multiple SCBA changes, and a multiple request for more resources.
    √ Use command teams for greater situational awareness.

    √ Use an incident timer for greater awareness of expected outcomes in an expected time frame.

    √ Increase the level of supervision in divisions, groups, and branches as the risk increases.

    √ The IC should issue progress reports to enhance situational awareness for everyone on the fireground.

  • When your gut tells you so. There is nothing more powerful then gut instinct. Never ignore it.

 Riley and  Schultz emphasized the following points:

  •  “ Fire Departments must have the ability and courage to learn from past mistakes.”
  • “SOG’s must be the line in the sand that never gets crossed.”
  • “ The 20-minute mark is a fire service lie and has no critical connection to anything on the fireground any longer. It is the incident commander’s responsibility to account for all members in the IDLH at all times, not just at the 20-minute mark.”

In this interactive session, students viewed video and listened to audio that related to these predictable problems, and discussions were directed at best practices for officers. Students were shown how to prepare a detailed risk assessment,  participate in developing scripted fireground reports (on-scene reports, CAN reports, roof reports, and progress reports) and how to avoid predictable and  preventable injuries and deaths brought about by lack of command and control, a loss of situational awareness, inadequate communications, and the lack of strong accountability and standard operating procedures.

 “Risk assessment is one of the most critical jobs for the company officer  and the incident commander,” said Riley. “We must do better at looking at risk assessment from a holistic view including  fire behavior, fire/smoke behavior in each of the four building types, fireground critical factors, and available resources. The fire service does a terrible job at teaching risk assessment.”

The workshop also stressed that consistency is a mission-critical requirement and that the best way to achieve it on the fireground is through the use of SOGs, which, the instructors explained, “ make clear company level expectations and areas of operation for various types of situations.”  Effective SOGs allow for human input when unexpected situations arise. But, the students were reminded that they must notify the IC. “SOGs are only as effective as the level of compliance. There must be zero tolerance for willful violations of SOGs,” the instructors stressed.

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