Standard Procedures Take Confusion Out of Operations
The Volunteers Corner
If you ask a first-alarm chief officer what he would most like to have during his first few minutes on the fireground, he answer would be, “Time”—time to size up the fire and time to think.
If a fire department has some standard operating procedures, fewer orders will have to be given, and if there are fewer orders to give, the first-alarm chief will have more time for sizing up the fire and thinking what he is going to do about the situation. We’re not talking about a long time for thinking—two minutes, possibly three—but a competent chief can develop an effective initial strategy in that time if he doesn’t have to spend most of that time issuing orders to every company.
How do you tailor standard operating procedures to your next fire? Obviously, you don’t. What you do is to develop SOPs that cover the vast majority of situations in general terms but allow company officers an area in which they can make decisions to fit specific conditions. The SOPs should be written so that while they allow company officers to make decisions, the area in which t hey can make decisions is limited so that:
- Company officers cannot make decisions that are grossly unreasonable.
- Decisions made by company officers will help build a foundation for the strategy being developed by the first-in chief officer.
SOP examples: Let’s say that an SOP is t hat in responding to any structural alarm (or it could he whenever smoke is showing), the first-in engine company must drop parallel lines or a single 4 or 5-inch line. This gives the first-in company officer the options of going to inline pumping or ordering the pumper to a hydrant . Whichever option he selects will reflect his choice of the size line he will order to the fire.
Years of experience may result in an SOP that the first line on a fire in a factory shall be at least a 2 ½ -inch line. Again, the company officer has room to make a decision to use a heavier stream attack with the deluge set mounted on his apparatus.
At vehicle fires, the first line stretched from the engine must be at least an 1 -inch line might be another SOP for your department. This avoids the error of stretching a booster line for what looks to be a nothing fire but which suddenly expands beyond booster line capability. At the same time, this SOP leaves room for the company officer to order a 22 -inch hand line stretched when facing a trailer truck well involved in fire.
Second-due company: If the first-in engine drops parallel lines—or a large diameter line—at a hydrant and goes to the fire building, it should be an SOP for the second-in engine company to hook up to the hydrant and pump to the first engine. Again, this leaves an option. If the officer of the second engine company sees that the fire is getting heyond the capability of the inline pumping setup, he can drop his own parallel lines—either by passing the fire on the way to the hydrant or by first backing up to the fire—for hand lines or a master stream device before going to a hydrant.
If the first engine goes into operation without stretching supply lines and pumps from its booster tank, then it should be a SOP for the second engine company to supply water to the first without any specific order. Parallel lines or large-diameter hose also should be SOP in this case.
The SOP that I am most insistent about is that no engine company except the first-in should ever do inline pumping. When a second engine hooks up to a hydrant, it is because more water is needed or may be needed. Therefore, that second engine should hook up so that it can obtain the maximum flow the hydrant can provide. Regardless of the potential flow from a hydrant, inline pumping reduces this (low.
Other procedures: It should be SOP for the ladder company officer to determine the type of ventilation needed at a fire and to provide it in coordination with the first-in engine company. That officer should be competent to decide whether the situation calls for vertical or horizontal vent ilation. If the officer-in-charge decides to use an indirect attack, then he has only to tell the ladder company officer not to ventilate.
It also should be SOP for the ladder company to provide at least two men f or search and rescue. In all too many departments, that would strip the ladder company of manpower and leave no one for ventilation, forcible entry and laddering. If such is the case in your department or if you don’t have a ladder company—then your SOP should call for men from an engine company to do search and rescue. Depending on your situation, the company that provides these men should be designated—probably the second-due engine but it should be spelled out so the chief is assured that this detail is taken care of automatically.
Look over the fireground experience in your department and then determine what fireground operations can be effectively handled through standard operating procedures.
SOPs preclude most of the init ial tendency to confusion on the fireground and give the first companies objectives that will generally support the strategy the first-alarm chief will devise for a specific fire. There will be no backtracking and every company will be useful in the attack. □ □