Do Your Due

Not every company can be the
first-due engine

If the fireground were put to music it should sound like a professional orchestra and not the introduction of the clown car at the circus. (Jeremiah Rucker/Mark Brady image)

By Ricky Riley

Across the country, departments have been or are adopting standard operating procedures for responses to structure fires. This is occurring whether the department is career, combination or all volunteer.  These standard operating procedures or guidelines provide a coordinated response to building fires. The well thought-out plan for these responses provides each company that is dispatched on the alarm with a script to follow upon their arrival of the incident scene. It is this forethought and pre-planning that has, and continues to make firegrounds run smoother, with less chances of mistakes and uncoordinated efforts.

The standard operating procedures for your respective department MUST meet the equipment, staffing, water supply and building stock of your respective response area. There is no one size fits all S.O.P. that works for all departments.

With these S.O.P’s comes a series of tasks that need to be accomplished by the defined first alarm assignment of equipment and personnel. These include but are not limited to water supply, rescue, extinguishment, ladders and confinement. These tasks are outlined and assigned in the S.O.P. to several companies dispatched on the call. They typically have numerous tactical benchmarks that also need to be accomplished that can include arrival order and positioning on the fireground.

These S.O.P.’s require a solid education and commitment from the front-line company officers. Their understanding of the S.O.P.’s and how they fit into the strategy of the building fire is crucial for any departments’ success on the fireground and of our dedicated delivery of service to our public. The company officer is the person that can make or break the success of a fireground. Their true understanding of the S.O.P. that they are expected to follow and how well they can manage their companies’ actions in relation to the fire and the S.O.P. is the measuring stick for how well the incident progresses.

Make no mistake, the overall success on the fireground requires a team of trained and capable firefighters to support the company officer. Hopefully at a minimum we have a firefighter who is going to drive the company to the call and operate their apparatus when it arrives on the scene. And then at least another firefighter to help the company officer complete the benchmarks and assignments given to them by the S.O.P. or the Incident Commander.

It is crucial that the company officer and the assigned firefighters be the best company at their due position on the assignment. If you are the second due engine, first due truck, second due truck or whatever position on the assignment. Be the best company that your company can be for what due you are on the assignment. You are assigned a set of tasks through the S.O.P., complete all those to the best of your ability, and then request your next assignment through the Incident Commander. The Incident Commander is depending on you and your company to accomplish your tasks as assigned in the S.O.P. Not performing your tasks as outlined in the S.O.P. or trying to change your position on the assignment to complete someone else’s task can and will cause confusion on an already dynamic and ever changing fireground.

S.O.P’s create a great plan for the fireground and ensure all tactical benchmarks are addressed by the initial arriving companies. But as Chief Dan Shaw says, the fire has a say in how the incident is going to play out. So, if the fire forces us to make a deviation from the S.O.P., that is fine as long as that deviation is communicated to all units and to the Incident Commander. All of us must know what that company is not doing, and what tasks are not getting accomplished. We reiterate that it must be communicated, and if command has been established, approved by the Incident Commander.

Not every company or group of firefighters can be the first due engine and make the initial attack on the fire or be assigned to the fire room or area. Based on your arrival or due position, we must complete all our assigned tasks to support the fireground. The fireground is dependent on selfless service by companies and firefighters, not what a company, officer or firefighter wants to do on the fireground. Company and firefighter operational discipline is crucial to a successful fireground. Being a disciplined company and firefighter, regardless of what due you are, is your initial job on the fireground. Do what is good for the entire fireground and our public, not what you want to do.


Ricky Riley is a long time student of the fire service and is currently a Volunteer Assistant Chief with a large combination department outside of Washington DC. He is a firefighter with the Kentland Volunteer Fire Department where he is a past Fire Chief. He served 11 years as the Operations Chief of the Clearwater Fire & Rescue in Florida, after serving 20 years with the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue in Virginia. 

Ricky is the Fire Apparatus Manager for a large combination department outside of Washington D.C. and serves on the Editorial Advisory Board for Fire Apparatus & Equipment Magazine

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