Keeping the Small Fire Department on Track and in Line

Steve Meyer reports that, as necessary as they are to keeping a small fire department on track, the absence of appropriate policies and procedures is epidemic.


It’s an admirable accomplishment to have a dynamic, progressive volunteer fire department with a full roster of members doing all the right things. Such an esteemed goal drives any volunteer chief from a small fire department who takes his or her position with the seriousness it deserves. A...


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WHERE DO WE BEGIN?

Among those who have now gotten into the meat of this article are undoubtedly members of small fire departments with fearfully inadequate, out-of-date policies and procedures – or with no policies and procedures at all. Or, perhaps your department has a reasonably good slate of policies and procedures that just needs a little touching up here and there.

That brings about the ominous question: Where do I begin? Basically, policies and procedures must be in tune with the organizational needs; must satisfy legal requirements; must comply with firefighting standards; and must be sensitive to local capabilities.

That’s easily said, but so easily accomplished.

For a small fire department looking to establish a slate of policies and procedures or to revise what it does have, the best advice is to first look at the policies and procedures of neighboring or similar fire departments. Invariably, some will be found that have an appealing format and content that is the right fit for your department. There are even some generic policy and procedure formats that can be reviewed and tweaked to meet local requirements. Ask your state fire training agency or fire marshal’s office, search the web or post a request for information in a firefighters newsgroup – the material is out there, if you do a little searching.

Once policies and procedures are found that seem to be the right fit, small fire department administrators need to understand that they cannot simply take another fire department’s policies or some cookie-cutter generic format and throw them into the computer, then do a search-and-replace to insert your department’s name where appropriate. They will need to be reviewed and changed to meet your department’s requirements and gone over with the department’s membership! Members must be thoroughly informed and involved in the process, not just shown a binder full of material and told “here’s how we are going to operate.” When they are approved with a commitment from the department’s membership, the department in essence disciplines itself.

Developing or modifying polices and procedures should not be a singular endeavor – ideally. Reality is that in a small fire department it often is. What’s most important is that someone takes the initiative to get it done. The critical factor is that the final decisions on what goes into a slate of policies and procedures needs to be subject to the review of a committee and given final approval by the department’s membership. Using this approach develops a sense of ownership and commitment among fire department members to the obligations inherent in written policies and procedures. If you don’t develop this kind of consortium approach, the implementation of written policies and procedures will fall short of their purposes.

There is no doubt about it, developing or modifying written policies and procedures is an intense and time-consuming process. If conducted properly, however, the dividends are well worth the effort. You will have developed the necessary guidelines for a consistently effective response, a guideline for training and education of firefighters, and benchmarks to use in evaluating the department’s performance.

All policies and procedures and any changes therein should be reviewed with the department’s governing body. In some jurisdictions, the governing body may even need to provide final approval.

BASIC ITEMS NEEDED

The basic items that every small fire department needs in its cadre of policies and procedures are: