How to gain complete compliance for SOGs

Washington D.C.'s No One Goes Home program is a template any department can use to get SOG buy in from officers and firefighters

Perhaps the five most important components of using a standard operating guideline driven structural fire response system are: training, implementation, follow-up, enforcement and revision.

I am very pleased to report that I received a lot of positive reader feedback for March's column discussing the importance of using an SOG system to handle structural fire events. I handled about a dozen requests for model structural fire SOGs for folks to use as a template to develop their own structural fire SOGs.

Well-written SOGs are just the beginning aspect of having an effective and consistent structural fire response. So it seems logical to focus on the support systems necessary for SOGs to be effective in the field.

Training is key
It's likely that everyone understands that training is the key to implanting SOGs and, for that matter, just about any type of program or process. However, it is remarkable to learn of so many near-miss situations and other disastrous events that involved line firefighters who didn't know or understand the related policies.

When any member is given a role to perform at an emergency incident, a major part of their functional preparation is to be trained (initial and on-going) and to understand the other related guidelines.  

The best analogy about failing to training on SOGs and protocols is like a member who is instructed to wear fire-department issued dark blue uniform pants. If the member relieves himself or herself in those same dark blue pants, it is a wonderful warm feeling, but no one notices. 

So, to avoid that potential mess, I urge every department to have a comprehensive training program that addresses all policies and protocols both in initial and on-going training regimens.

On going training
Some departments train (actually only conduct a brief review) all of their SOGs at the initial recruit training level. Of course that represents only the start of the comprehensive training process, but not a best practice by any means. 

It is shocking to learn how many fire departments end their training efforts at this point. If this is the case (basic training or less is provided to the membership) in your department, trouble is brewing just around the next bend.

One of the most effective ways to develop an on-going training program is to divide the policies and procedure by 12 — if there are 144 policies and protocols, the number to review each month is 12.

Once you have that number set, make sure that the minimum number of policies are properly reviewed each month and in the same order by all.

If your fire department has invested in a Learning Management System for the training process, let me say, "Congratulations!" Your LMS is designed to track required training, like SOG training, without breaking a sweat. The LMS will save time, money and be more accurate than most other department training tracking systems.

If your department does not have an LMS, do not panic. The SOG training and record keeping that the non-LMS departments use will be whatever means the department typically uses to implement, management and track all other training activities. 

Here's where the rubber finally meets the road. The structural fire response guidelines have been developed. All of the members of the department have been properly trained and all of the SOG training records have been captured. 

So, it is now time to spread the word that the SOGs are now in use. Every member needs to know that the time has arrived for the new guideline to be implemented.

Consider using multiple sources to share the message that it is go time. I would even include a radio transmission of the department's primary radio frequency along with all of the other means that your department has to communicate to your members.  

Be flexible as the guideline is being placed in service for the first day of each of your shifts or duty crew days. Never loose sight of the implementation goal to incorporate the guideline properly and effectively. The notion to punish the way to success is just as silly as it sounds. 

Expect errors as a new operational policy is being implemented. If the companies are working towards successful implementation, do not disrupt their workflow by interjecting discipline. Patience and re-fresher training will be the key.

D.C.'s model
I had been working in the District of Columbia Fire Department for about a year or so when the assistant fire chief of operations describe this process. I must admit that I was a little taken back by his description of how we would enforce the structural fire guideline. 

As it turned out, the follow-up process was amazing. The way the system worked was that after each working fire dispatch a guideline review was conducted after the benchmark of "under control" was reached. 

The review asked for all company and chief officers to report to the command post after a reasonable time for rest and rehabilitation. Once the group was assembled, the incident commander took the entire group on a walking tour of the incident. 

Each company officer described his or her actions as compared to the guideline requirements. If the actions taken did not meet the guideline requirements, the officer could explain why and describe the communication process that was used to make adjustments on the fly.

About 99 percent of the time, the actions taken lined up with the guidelines or that the variation was necessary, requested and communicated. That leaves a very small percentage of when the actions were not correct and not justified. In those cases the resolution was acknowledging the mistake and re-training at the needed level. 

Life-threatening burns
In one near-miss case study, the officer failed to completely check the basement for fire extension. The fire to travel unabated to the second floor where the company was assigned. The engine company officer and one of his company members received life-threatening burns at this significant row-house fire. 

To follow-up this near miss, a major training effort was implemented for all companies. Further, a 45-minute video training program that reviewed this incident was developed for future use by DCFD. The hope was that this fire would provide lessons that we never forget. 

I can think of only one case where failing to follow the structural fire SOG ended in discipline. The focus of No One Goes Home program was always on outstanding performance and constant improvement. Firefighter safety was the underpinning and provided the energy to keep this a highly regarded program during my watch. 

In Bruno's words
Fire Chief Alan Brunacini was visiting D.C. Fire Department to assist us with our command training center development. We had started the mission-critical program of certifying all command officers and acting command officers (captains) in the Blue Card Command system. 

While Chief Brunacini was in town, he was able to watch the No One Goes Home program first hand after a working house fire. Chief Bruno perhaps summed up the system the best. 

He said, "What an effective way to critique and review a significant response. When the officers understand that they will be evaluated immediately after each and every major incident, it becomes a significant process improvement tool. The DCFD focus is to chase excellence and not on delivering discipline. More departments should consider using this simple but highly effective process."

The Tip Of The Spear honor for this month goes to DCFD Chief Larry Schultz (Retired). He envisioned, developed and implemented No One Goes Home to make sure that we were going where we said that we would, to protect our members, our residents and visitors and their property. 

Until next time, be safe out there. 

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