The Rules on Rules
… and policies, procedures, and orders. Proper use of each is especially important for small departments.
Fire departments, regardless of size or manning, are made up of a number of individuals from various social, economic, and family backgrounds. Like most individuals, every firefighter has an opinion on how the department should be run and how incidents should be handled.
In larger cities, matters that are handled repeatedly can often be handled in the same manner because there are policies and procedures to follow. The small-community fire department should be run likewise. In fact, since small-community fire departments usually have fewer alarms and because their personnel may not be in the station on a regular basis, written policies and procedures are even more important there than in “the Big City.”
Contrary to what personnel may initially claim, policies and procedures aren’t written to “hang someone.” They’re necessary to the proper operation of every fire department because they give subordinates guidelines, define the limits of their performance, and make clear what latitude there is for change.
You should rely on input from your subordinates in writing your first policies, procedures, and rules. To do so will make them easier for you to sell once implemented. (Don’t rush to implement too many too quickly, either, or you may have a department mutiny on your hands.)
A policy is nothing more than a guide provided to all members of a unit to assist them in deciding how to handle both emergency and routine matters. Policies should state in very general terms what’s to be done in a given set of circumstances.
Department policies generally originate at the chief officer level. They must always be put in writing so they’re available for future reference, which will help ensure that all similar cases or circumstances will be handled the same way. Keeping the department’s policies in a three-ring binder at each station will provide an easy reference for new members wishing to learn what’s expected of them.
Fire department policies are generally written in response to one of two situations: the request of a subordinate officer to the chief for an opinion on how to handle a matter, or the chief’s dissatisfaction with how subordinates have already handled a matter.
As a guide for decision-making, policies written by chief officers ensure that the decisions made are in line with the department’s goals and objectives. In some cases, a department policy may reinforce state law. For example, a policy may “remind” members that state law prohibits even emergency vehicles from passing a school bus that has its lights flashing; or a policy may remind members that use of lights and siren on personal vehicles merely asks other drivers for the right-of-way.
Fire Department Policies and Procedures
In all cases where a ‘ ‘ smoke showing’ ‘ or more severe situation is found upon arrival at a reported fire, a supply line shall be laid and an attack line advanced to the structure.
- All officers are responsible for the training of subordinates and for ensuring proper compliance with this policy.
- All members have the responsibility to adequately learn this procedure and carry out this policy.
- Upon arrival, the officer in charge shall order a supply line laid from the best and nearest hydrant (if available) or other water source, leaving one person to set up said line at the hydrant.
- Once at the scene, the engineer shall set up the apparatus to be ready to pump and provide an adequate and uninterrupted supply of water for fire attack.
- The officer in charge and other available personnel, as needed, shall advance an attack line of appropriate size and volume and be prepared to operate to best advantage.
- Once the hydrant person has completed that assignment, that firefighter shall proceed to the scene and assist as necessary.
Company officers may also have shift policies, which usually are unwritten and informal. Some examples of unwritten individual policies might be rotation of rescue/ambulance calls among the shift members, assignment of seating on the apparatus, and the responsibilities of each firefighter upon arrival at the scene of a fire.
Procedures are a direct result of and tied to department policy. They may be written at the company level—by the person responsible for accomplishing a given set of tasks or for carrying out policy— and co-signed by the fire chief. Or, in many cases, the chief may write the procedure while writing the policy. Policies and procedures often appear on the same page. By incorporating procedures with department policy, you establish performance standards and answer questions on routine department matters before they’re ever asked.
Procedures should consist of step-by-step instructions to carry out department policy efficiently. For example, it might be department policy to stretch a preconnected attack line whenever arriving creyvs find smoke showing (see figure). Procedures should include, where applicable, the who, what, when, where, how, and why to accomplish a given task.
Rules are more legalistic than policy and generally cover personal conduct and discipline on duty (and possibly off). Basic rules are needed to ensure the proper and moral conduct of members while in the performance of their duties.
Orders direct the implementation, administration, and dissemination of policies, procedures, rules, and general operations. They may be written or presented orally on a case-by-case basis. Generally, administrative orders passed down from the chief are written and more formal. Unwritten orders generated by a company officer may include handling of such matters as the need for a subordinate to get a haircut, wear a clean uniform, help maintain the apparatus, or do a share of the housework duties.
Although there are times when orders become necessary, they shouldn’t be overused. “Requests” or “suggestions,” which often get the work accomplished just as quickly but with less friction, may be used instead. For example, you might say, “Firefighter Jones, Smith can use a hand with the oil change.” Such suggested or implied orders should be sincere and not presented sarcastically.
Whether the communication being made is a policy, procedure, rule, or order, it must meet three important criteria to get the desired response from subordinates:
- It must be clear. If the item is confusing, poorly written, or verbose, every person will have a different opinion of what it means.
- It must be fair and appropriate to the circumstances for which it’s intended.
- It must be consistently enforced. To require only certain members of the department to follow a policy, rule, or whatever will cause morale problems. It will convince members who get the harsher treatment that the policy was written only to “hang them,” which isn’t the purpose, and it will cause ignorance of and disregard for policies and procedures in the same circumstances in the future.
All departments, regardless of size and composition, need policies, procedures, rules, and orders. They lend a sense of professionalism to even the smallest of departments. ■