Thread: SOPs vs. SOGs

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    Default SOPs vs. SOGs

    Standard Operating Procedures vs. Standard Operating Guidelines, what does your department use, and how do you feel about it? As I read the literature, hear peoples opinions, and browse websites I see both out there. Are they really the same or does one word truly make the difference?

    Looking foward to some thought provoking responses.

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    A procedure needs to be followed, a guideline is just that.

    In reality they are the same, in a courtroom they are much different.

    For example you have a sop that states firefighters shall have a secure water supply prior to entering a structure. If the engine ran out of water and someone gets hurt because they aren't on a hydrant. Their is a liability issue. On the otherhand if you have an sog that states the engine should be on a secure water source prior to firefighters entering the building. Now if some one gets injured depending on the circumstances it will be easier to defend the department, because it was a guideline.

    I hope that helps, BTW we use SOG's

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    I agree with ADSN, but a different part of his post.

    Whether you call it a guideline or procedure, I could give a rat's rear end.

    BUT...

    a sop that states firefighters shall have a secure water supply prior to entering a structure

    and

    sog that states the engine should be on a secure water source prior to firefighters entering the building

    are very different orders, and that is all an SOP/SOG/General Order/Etc is but a written order prepared in advance. Writing the first thing but calling it a SOG doesn't change the fact it says you must do something.

    BTW, From NFPA uses the following defintions:
    Shall. Indicates a mandatory requirement.
    Should. Indicates a recommendation or that which is advised but not required.

    It's probably worth noting the big guys of standard writing define not only industry-specific terms like, "Above Ground Storage Tank" but even common but critical words like "shall" and "should."

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    I stand amended, the wording of the entire document must be considered. SOG wording include should, may, recommends... SOP wording Must, Shall, requires...

    I think Penn Well sells a book on SOP/G writing.

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    My question is... Who out there actually has two separate SOG/SOP documents?
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    Default SOG vs. SOP

    We moved from SOP to SOG based on the perceived liability issue with a procedure vs guide. The current SOGs still contain those "shall" statements mentioned in the previous post. The shall statements are enforced more strictly than the "should" statements.

    Regardless of terminology, incidents will arise that may require deviation from either type of document. The issue is justifying the deviation. Was it good decision making based on life safety, incident stabilization, etc.? Or was it simply poor decision making, poor training, poor planning....any of which could create liability (civil or criminal).

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    I agree with ASDN...

    This is my .03 cents worth (according to Gonzo)

    SOPs are ones that define Departmental policies such as administrative, financial, purchasing, discipline etc. They are established and usually blessed by County Administrators.

    SOGs are just that....Operating Guidelines. They establish the way a department wants to operate during training, emergency incidents, water supply, etc. They always will say that "Company Officers and personnel are expected to use good judgment when varying from the SOGs."

    Yes....they are basically the same thing...but as Saf-T-Capt points out.....the terminology changes from Shall to Should.
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    My company just wrestled with this issue recently also. We were using the words Standard Operating Procedure, and decided to change the name to Operating Guideline. Our reasoning - every fire is different, and we can't always go "by the book", because the "book" doesn't anticipate every little thing that may happen. If someone got injured, or worse, at a time when we deviated due to the situation, should the state Division of Fire Safety's investigators come down to look into it, they can't say that we were violating our ownProcedures - we have a guideline, which leaves room to improvise. Procedures, generally, are perceived as being less than flexible. Matter of semantics? Probably. Tell that to some lawyer just out of school, though.....

    Oh, and we changed our OG's, too. Made them more towards responsibilities of each person (driver, firefighter, officer) than a "how-to" manual. IFSTA already wrote one of those, and we should all be familiar with it.
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    I don't care what you call them, a lawyer is going to use them against you.

    If you have guidelines, what do you do if someone doesn't follow them?

    Your SOG is to use a minimum 1 3/4 line on a structure fire. Firefighter X pulls a booster and goes in. Assuming he lives, can you discipline him? No, you only have a guideline, not a policy or procedure. Firefighter X was not wrong according to your document.

    If you do discipline members for failing to follow the guidelines, the lawyer is going to argue that you have procedures that must be followed and all your work renaming your document is out the window.

    You can't have it both ways.

    I would recommend everyone use mandatory procedures with a catch all at the beginning that allows the IC to modify the procedures on scene according to manpower and apparatus availability or as circumstances dictate.
    The above is MY OPINION only and not that of anyone else. I am not representing any organization in making a post here!!!!

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    Lemme clarify myself here....

    Our guidelines do have some mandatory areas to them. For example, they are very strict that anyone involved in direct firefighting operations be trained to the firefighter I standard, at a minimum. They also state that for a structure fire, no line smaller than 1 3/4 inches be used. The benefit of using a guideline comes in as to how you do the job. Essentially, they say that appropriate tactics shall be used in suppression. That gives the officer some discretion, room to use the information he gathers from reports and his size up, on how to actually attack the fire. As for firefighter X pulling a booster line for a structure fire, well, his officer should keep him from doing that before he goes in. No firefighter should just jump off, grab a line, and go running in. That's asking for trouble, no matter how specific your guidelines (procedures) are. If he does just jump off, grab the first nozle he sees, and runs in, you have another problem on your hands...

    By the way, our decision to change the name to Guidelines, was based on a recommendation form the state Division of Fire Safety.....
    My views are, of course, mine alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinion of my station

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    Originally posted by Jim Beutel
    Lemme clarify myself here....

    Our guidelines do have some mandatory areas to them.

    Does that make them "guidelines" or "procedures."

    One of the prior posters gave definitions for the terms and "guideline" was a suggestion, not mandatory.

    I'm not criticizing anyone, SOP, DOG, SOG, ABC, XYZ.... doesn't matter what you call them, just have them. I can't believe that there are companies without them still.

    If something happens and you get to court, the lawyer will beat you up regardless of what you call them.

    "Mr. Chief, these are titled "guidelines" but some sections say "shall"... are they mandatory or merely guidelines?"

    "How is the average firefighter supposed to know what is mandatory and what is just a suggestion?"

    or the real killer:

    "Mr. Chief, in developing these guidelines, you felt that it was important enough to make tan gear color mandatory but not to make (fill in your on scene operation here) a mandatory procedure? Why is that?"

    Originally posted by Jim Beutel
    Essentially, they say that appropriate tactics shall be used in suppression. That gives the officer some discretion, room to use the information he gathers from reports and his size up, on how to actually attack the fire.
    But when you use a vague term like "appropriate tactics" you are playing into the lawyers hand. Why is that appropriate? What book is it from? etc. A set procedure with the ability to deviate in differing circumstances is easier to defend as you only need to justify the deviation, not the entire process.


    Originally posted by Jim Beutel



    As for firefighter X pulling a booster line for a structure fire, well, his officer should keep him from doing that before he goes in. No firefighter should just jump off, grab a line, and go running in. That's asking for trouble, no matter how specific your guidelines (procedures) are. If he does just jump off, grab the first nozle he sees, and runs in, you have another problem on your hands...

    I agree, it was for example only.

    Originally posted by Jim Beutel


    By the way, our decision to change the name to Guidelines, was based on a recommendation form the state Division of Fire Safety.....
    Is that a "legal opinion" by DFS or is it just some non-lawyer at DFS giving legal advice?
    The above is MY OPINION only and not that of anyone else. I am not representing any organization in making a post here!!!!

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    Just my opinion, but a procedure that starts with "you can deviate from this procedure due to..." kind of makes it a guideline and not a procedure.

    Main Entry: pro·ce·dure
    1 a : a particular way of accomplishing something or of acting
    b : a step in a procedure
    2 a : a series of steps followed in a regular definite order
    b : a series of instructions for a computer that has a name by which it can be called into action
    3 a : a traditional or established way of doing things

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    Here I go...sorry

    I disagree that there is a difference. I do agree that it is the should or shall that is important.

    Any policy/procedure/guideline is there to establish a baseline for a Company oficer or firefighter to follow. There may be time when deviation is necessary, and as long as the reasons are justified, then deviations should be allowed. I remeber reading a military book (can't remember the title) where an officer told a General that he could not do something because it was "against regulations", the short answer was that regulations are there as a guide for the officer, regualation cannot anticipate every possible problem or outcome, therefore there needs to be some flexibility in how they are used. There are some instances where deviation cannot be allowed...ex. place the truck in neutral before shifting it into pump. This has to be an absolute or you'll make ground beef.
    but.. the first engine is responsible for advancing the first line. or something like that. well there may be 20 reasons why that didn't happen, of course only 2 of 'em may be acceptable. Anyway if this was a should, not a shall then it would allow for that flexibility, no matter what you called it.

    I also know departments that have SOP's and standing orders. So the possibilities are endless.

    As far as court goes....you own documents, whatever they are called, plus..National Standards, Regulations, and other departments documents will all be used against you....so just don't screw up!

    Take care brothers

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    Originally posted by hfd66truck
    Here I go...sorry

    I disagree that there is a difference. I do agree that it is the should or shall that is important.

    As far as court goes....you own documents, whatever they are called, plus..National Standards, Regulations, and other departments documents will all be used against you....so just don't screw up!

    Take care brothers
    The main point that I hope people get is that it does not make a difference what you call them. Don't think that changing from "procedures" to "guidelines" or anything else is somehow protecting you on the fireground from liability.

    Write the darn things so that operations work on the fireground!
    The above is MY OPINION only and not that of anyone else. I am not representing any organization in making a post here!!!!

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    Exactly

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    I'm wondering whether the problem is not over the use of the words 'procedure' and 'guideline', but rather whether the word 'standard' might be the problem. If we changed the document title to 'Normal Operating Procedures', then if you come up against an abnormal situation you then have the flexibility to do what is right for the given situation.

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    Unfortunately, my department has used the liability "excuse" as justification for not putting ANYTHING in writing....there is very little in the way of standing orders, or guidelines to help us....just wait till Im Chief......heheheh....

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