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    Unhappy Safety officer's authority

    I just read an article in a post sent to me by Fire Engineering. In it there is a statement made by the author that, "the safety officer has the authority to overrule the incident commander." ??????? I know that the fire service thinks it has come along way, and that in doing so it has created a role where it puts a person at an incident to look at it from purely a "safe" perspective. But someone out there is going to have to help me see the light of a real world situation where direction regarding an incident comes from the top, where supposedly the most qualified and capable leadership exists, and then someone else along the way intervenes and reverses direction. How is that a chain of command? Isn't the reality of the situation more along the lines of a safety officer looking for something, finding it, and reporting it back to the commander, so that they can rectify it. .

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    As far as my understanding goes, the Safety Officer can stop a specific task or larger operation if it's unsafe and make corrections to make it safe.
    So, I guess in that sense, the Safety Office can 'overrule' the IC.
    However, the Safety Officer cannot 'overrule' the IC when it comes to command decisions, broad strategy, assignment of resources, etc.

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    I think this might be department specific.

    I know on the large wildland incidents at the federal level, the Safety Officers have a lot of clout. They also have a lot of experience and training (generalizations I realize, so not always the case).

    Also, based on your post, i'm not really clear on what circumstances they would overrule the IC. During planning, or during operations?

    That one line seems out of context.
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    My understanding is similar to ChiefSquirrel's. The safety officer can shut down the entire operation or a portion if he feels it is unsafe. He would then confer with the IC and find a safer way to resume the operation. He cannot reverse the IC on tactics or strategy.

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    As stated above, I also think how much authority given to the safety officer may be dept. specific. The safety officer should not be too concerned with how much authority he has so he can over-rule the incident commander. The safety officer and incident commander need to work together. If the safety officer finds something about the operation that is unsafe, the incident commander should have no problem with stopping that task. This only works if the two of them are on the "same page". If they have different beliefs of how to fight a fire, I'm sure there could be a real ****ing match.


    I guess I am thankful our safety officer is just another set of eyes looking out for our safety and works well with the IC, and they both let us do our jobs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ChiefSquirrel View Post
    As far as my understanding goes, the Safety Officer can stop a specific task or larger operation if it's unsafe and make corrections to make it safe.
    So, I guess in that sense, the Safety Office can 'overrule' the IC.
    However, the Safety Officer cannot 'overrule' the IC when it comes to command decisions, broad strategy, assignment of resources, etc.
    Chief Squirrel pretty much summed it up. In our area (not just my department), this has been the way it is for the 15 years that I've been doing this.

    It's not about the SO looking for a reason to overrule the IC, it's about the SO being able to override the IC if he/she sees something that could be harmful to a member.
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    Our SO is basically the same as the rest of the people here. They only overrule the IC if there is a safety hazard. We never have an issue with one trying to overrule the other or anything like that. Thankfully all our Officers work well together.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DeltaCreek View Post
    "the safety officer has the authority to overrule the incident commander." ??????? I .
    Honestly, it is the duty of every firefighter, officer and person on that fire ground that if they see an action that WILL cause death/injury/harm to another firefighter or person on that fire ground to over rule any such order.

    If you break your leg following an order knowing that breaking your leg is the BEST thing that could happen...who really feels the pain and suffering?

    Look after each other, take care of each other. If an order by someone sitting in an SUV WILL cause death or harm to a Brother firefighter, raise the alarm. They may not be fully aware.
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    Our SO's would not normally overrule the IC. In fact I think "overrule" is a poor term as it indicates some disagreement on the safety or tactics.

    Our SO's immediately point out safety issues to individuals (smaller issues) where they can or call or see command about larger issues. The IC then takes the appropriate action. For example: if the SO sees a crack in the wall with smoke pushing out, he would call the IC and advise he believes there is a eminent collapse danger, the IC would then pull the crews. This being said, if a SO did make an order to evacuate or stop a given operation, I have to think the IC would go along until he was certain the SO was wrong.

    The real reason for this, is because how often are Safety Officers the most experienced and trained fire persons on the scene? It seems quite often these are older guys no longer fit for SCBA work or past Chief's. Some maybe well trained but I've seen more that aren't. This is why a system that assigns a duty chief or officer to a safety position seems to be a better option. The SO ought to be someone who can run a fire.

    Also you cannot have anyone stop part of the operation without considering the totality of their order. What if your SO pulls the crew on the handline thats protecting the stairs, when you have a crew on upper floors.

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    In ICS the general take is ....

    The Safety Officer, as a member of the Command Staff, is responsible for monitoring and assessing hazardous and unsafe situations and developing measures for assuring personnel safety. The Safety Officer will correct unsafe acts or conditions through the regular line of authority, although they (Safety Officer) may exercise emergency authority, to stop or prevent unsafe acts when immediate action is required.

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    I am with BoxAlarm .......this is how it works in this area.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Batt18 View Post
    In ICS the general take is ....
    That about sums it up for our FD.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RFDACM02 View Post
    Our SO's would not normally overrule the IC. In fact I think "overrule" is a poor term as it indicates some disagreement on the safety or tactics.

    I agree, poor terminology. As others have suggested, it is not as much "Overruling" the IC, as making an emergency intervention to avoid injury or escalation.

    The safety officer is intended to be the extra eyes and ears of the IC, and to identify things that they (the IC) cannot.
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    Default No ****ing Matches

    As a current department SO(for those that want to know, former company officer with lots of IC experience) my job and the job of EVERY department member is to make sure we all go home at the end of the call in the same health we showed up in.
    I have the ability to stop or change the way a task or group of task is being performed if it is not safe. I only do this myself with out going to the IC if it is a high risk issue that needs Immediate attention and then I let the IC know as soon as I have and the quick details. Otherwise I go to the IC and advise him or her what the problem is so that they may make the changes. It is widely accepted in the SO programs that this is the way it should be done by all.
    No call needs more than one boss, for that is how people get hurt and calls get out of control.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Batt18 View Post
    In ICS the general take is ....The Safety Officer, as a member of the Command Staff, is responsible for monitoring and assessing hazardous and unsafe situations and developing measures for assuring personnel safety. The Safety Officer will correct unsafe acts or conditions through the regular line of authority, although they (Safety Officer) may exercise emergency authority, to stop or prevent unsafe acts when immediate action is required.
    Thats exactly how our SOG is written.

    It has nothing to do with "over-riding" the IC. Its all about safe operations.

    I was SO on a 3 alarm job we had a couple months ago. About 20 minutes in I noticed cracks forming in a bearing wall from my position on the "C" side of the structure. I called the IC and said to evacuate the structure, and the crews were pulled and we switched to an exterior attack.

    Later on, after knockdown, the Opps Chief and the IC came up with a plan to send someone back in to check the stability of the 2nd & 3rd floor. They consulted with me first and asked if they could do it. We did, but if I had said no it wouldn't have happened.
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    NFPA 1521 Standard for Fire Department Safety Officer 2008 Edition states the following:

    4.6 Authority of the Incident Safety Officer.

    4.6.1 At an emergency incident, the incident commander shall be responsible for the overall management of the incident and the safety of all members involved at the scene. [1500:8.1.5]

    4.6.2 At an emergency incident where activities are judged by the incident safety officer as posing an imminent threat to fire fighter safety, the incident safety officer shall have the authority to stop, alter, or suspend those activities.

    4.6.3 The incident safety officer shall immediately inform the incident commander of any actions taken to correct imminent hazards at the emergency scene.

    4.6.4 At an emergency incident where an incident safety officer identifies unsafe conditions, operations, or hazards that do not present an imminent threat to fire fighters, the incident safety officer shall take appropriate action through the incident commander to mitigate or eliminate the unsafe condition, operation, or hazard at the incident scene.

    4.6.5 An assigned assistant incident safety officer(s) shall be granted the authority authorized in 4.6.2.

    As several members have mentioned in this thread, the IC runs the incident period. The incident Safety Officer gets involved when there is an issue of personnel safety. He or she will coordinate with the IC and take appropiate action or make necessary recomendations.
    Last edited by kferrara2002; 03-09-2008 at 12:49 AM.

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    The IC is the safety officer until he designates it to someone else. At that point, the IC is telling me that he/she needs another set of eyes on the scene and would welcome someone identifying a safety issue prior to it causing an injury/fatality.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kayakking View Post
    The IC is the safety officer until he designates it to someone else. At that point, the IC is telling me that he/she needs another set of eyes on the scene and would welcome someone identifying a safety issue prior to it causing an injury/fatality.
    Not in Wisconsin. State statutes (COMM30) requires a department to have a Safety Officer on it's dept. If the SO isn't there it requires the IC to appoint one at the scene. The SO is the only other officer other than Chief that has statutory responsibilities and authoritites in WI.

    Now, an IC still has full authority over a fireground, but woe be to the chief who disregards his SO on the scene of a fire and someone get's hurt. Ain't no court in the world that would back him up in that case.

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    I don't see how the IC can be the Safety Officer at the same time. The IC is too involved in mitigating the incident, accounting for his or her personnel, directing incoming units, etc. For the IC to be able to watch the incident for any life safety issues while conducting ongoing scene operations is darn near impossible unless it's a small incident such as a single vehicle accident or something similar. It should be an automatic decision for the IC to assign a Safety Officer while units are responding unless one is previously assigned; such as an established department SO.

    I agree with ameryfd in saying most career departments have an established SO in place. I cannot say that the majority of volunteer departments have that capability mainly based on manning and training. An individual assigned as a Safety Officer has to be trained equal to or higher then the level of operation being conducted. Most structure fires and in particular technical rescues are too involved to allow the IC to wear dual hats (IC / SO) and still be able to maintain control.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kferrara2002 View Post
    I don't see how the IC can be the Safety Officer at the same time.
    The IC is ultimately responsible for the safety of the operation. Period. No number of safety officers will remove the responsibility from the IC. Most of us do not have the personnel to assign a dedicated SO for every room and contents fire. By the time our initial ops assignments are filled so we could assign a SO, the fire will often be out! If we took a man off the line or search to make a SO we could be in fact creating an immediate safety issue. I am all for having a SO when the incident is large or complex enough that the IC cannot focus on conditions and radio reports or accountability is too much too handle.

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    For the IC to be able to watch the incident for any life safety issues while conducting ongoing scene operations is darn near impossible unless it's a small incident such as a single vehicle accident or something similar.
    You are correct in stating that the IC bears the responsibility of the incident no matter if there is a SO in place or not. It's the IC that has to answer for all actions on the incident scene.

    And I'm in agreement that most departments simply do not have the manpower to supply a SO initially or even at all. However, what are departments doing to resolve that issue? Do they keep working with minimum manning and take the chance nothing will occure that a SO could have prevented, or are they making strides to hire or recruit volunteers so they can free up the qualified SO's?

    I know budgets are getting more and more tighter as the years go on, however, departments MUST make a stand and push to get these SO positions filled.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kferrara2002 View Post
    You are correct in stating that the IC bears the responsibility of the incident no matter if there is a SO in place or not. It's the IC that has to answer for all actions on the incident scene.

    And I'm in agreement that most departments simply do not have the manpower to supply a SO initially or even at all. However, what are departments doing to resolve that issue? Do they keep working with minimum manning and take the chance nothing will occure that a SO could have prevented, or are they making strides to hire or recruit volunteers so they can free up the qualified SO's?

    I know budgets are getting more and more tighter as the years go on, however, departments MUST make a stand and push to get these SO positions filled.
    We're always trying for more staffing, but at this point it is for line positions not a dedicated safety officer. More firefighters will make our firegrounds safer in the first 15 minutes than a dedicated safety officer. All firefighters are trained to report safety hazards via an "urgent" message. With more FFer's company officers can be officers not the nozzleman or back-up FF. Many (most?) of the FD's out there have staffing issues that force FFer's and officers to fill many positions and roles, meaning some get done in a priority manner or are left incomplete, this leads to safety issues. I'm all for having a dedicated SO, but I'll still take more hands on firefighters and their eyes in the first 10-15 minutes before I'll call for a SO to be part of the initial assignment. I'm confident that our firefighters training, the officers and the chiefs training and experience will get us through those initial minutes. This isn't to say we can't or won't have a safety issue, but like everything else we do, its a calculated risk.

    Oddly enough we were close to having a dedicated SO when the city council wanted an apartment inspection program. We had a new inspector position and one of his/her duties would have been accountability/safety on any first alarm or greater incident. Of course the program was cut and so was the position. But, this could be a way for some dept's to look at other non-line positions to gain the SO, but it would take training unless they were previously firefighter trained. And then a SO with little experience?
    Last edited by RFDACM02; 03-13-2008 at 10:36 AM.

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    Last edited by 5alarmcooker; 03-17-2008 at 07:06 PM.

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