The NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) administers the Rural Fires Act 1997. The Act was proclaimed in September 1997 and superseded the Bush Fires Act 1949. The Rural Fires Act, 1997 is supported by the Rural Fire Regulation 2013 and they should be read together.
In addition to this legislation, the NSW RFS operates under policy and guidance material aimed at ensuring the safest and highest quality of service delivery such as firefighting operations or other valuable support activities.
There are various legislative and policy documents within the NSW RFS and each has its place in the hierarchy of documents (Service Standard 1.1.1 Management of Service Standards, Policies and related documents). The hierarchy is as follows:
Apart from the Rural Fires Act there are other pieces of legislation that affect the operations of the Service.
Examples of these Acts, codes and standards include:
- Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (EP&A)
- Bushfire Environmental Code of Operational Management Procedures
- Australian Standards such as AS1715:2009 (Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective equipment)
- Bush Fire Coordinating Committee Policy Documents
- Fire Services Joint Standing Committee Policy Documents
All legislation, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Operational Protocols, Service Standards and Australian Standards should be accessed on-line through the sites such as www.legislation.nsw.gov.au, www.myrfs.nsw.gov.au or through www.standards.org.au as obtaining the most recent version is essential.
While as an Advanced Firefighter it is unlikely that you will need to know these documents in detail, it is important that you have some understanding about the rules and regulations that govern what we do and how we do it. It is recommended that you check these documents from time to time to ensure that you stay up to date with the current information available.
What are Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)?
SOPs are created through the experience of people and organisations and are written statements describing the actions to be followed in operational and other situations such as training. They detail the way service standards and policies are to be applied. SOPs are linked to and form part of a service standard or policy.
In the NSW RFS, Service Standards and Policies are written statements on the broader operation, management, co-ordination and control of the Service. These policy documents often have SOPs attached so as to define how that Service Standard or Policy is to be applied within the NSW RFS.
Why are SOPs Used?
SOPs provide consistency in approach and outcomes. For this reason they are used worldwide in many types of industries and organisations because for a very high percentage of operations, a pre-determined set of actions is known to solve the problem.
Because an SOP is a set of instructions for a definite or standardised activity, when they are followed, the organisation can be sure that its obligations will be met.
Imagine a situation where communities or organisations decide to combine their firefighting operations. Each team has its own way of doing things and there may be the danger of miscommunication, conflict and problems. To avoid these problems written guidelines (SOPs) are needed to define how operations are to be conducted. These guidelines clearly spell out what is required of personnel during emergency response and during non-emergency activities. They provide a way to communicate legal and administrative requirements, organisational policies and strategic plans to everyone. In short, they get everybody 'on the same page'.
If the NSW RFS did not use SOPs, we would potentially be ‘re-inventing the wheel’ every time we dispatched units to an incident as every person who does that job may have their own perception of how it should be done.
What Reasons Underpin the Creation of an SOP?
SOPs may be prepared for any function that an organisation performs, including administration (hiring, equipment maintenance, building inspections, rehabilitation) and emergency response operations (e.g. fire suppression, medical services, hazardous materials response). The procedures can be organised and presented in many different ways, depending on the needs and preferences of the organisation.
SOPs are not the same as pre-incident plans, which describe, for example, strategies for emergency response at a specific facility. Pre-incident plans allow an organisation to gather information on designated locations, identify potential hazards and assess site-specific factors.
SOPs, on the other hand, address general functions like equipment requirements and placement and tactical operations and they are applicable to all emergency incidents, or at least to a specific category or type of emergency situation.
An example of a specific NSW RFS Fireground SOP (1999 edition) is SOP#13 Special Precautions During High, Very High or Extreme Bush Fire Danger.
How are SOPs Used?
SOPs are not intended to provide step-by-step instructions for doing a job. The knowledge and skills that personnel need to perform specific job tasks – manage programs, fight fires, provide medical care – are addressed in technical protocols and professional training. SOPs describe related considerations: safety, use of supplies, equipment maintenance, duties and rights of personnel, command structures, coordination with other organisations and reporting requirements. These are overall considerations that must be applied to an incident or task.
SOPs are particularly important for emergency services organisations because they must deal with:
- Expanding operations, such as emergency medical care, hazardous materials response, technical rescue, fire prevention and suppression, community education and terrorism related incidents
- Increasing legal and regulatory requirements, such as safe work practices, public and employee right-to-know, equal opportunity (race, gender, age, disability), performance standards, employee relations and performance benchmarks.
- Increasing complexity in emergency response techniques and equipment, such as use of Rapid Aerial Response Teams (RART)
- Personal protective measures, chemical safety, infection control, building and industrial codes, information management and training systems
- Increased scrutiny by the media, government and the public
- Information access during incidents, use of resources and timeliness and accuracy of information
As a result of these expanded operations, the decisions that personnel face are more complex. Emergency services teams need help in understanding the complex maze of regulatory and administrative requirements and well-designed standard operating procedures help fill this need.
SOPs clarify job requirements and expectations for individuals and teams in a format that can be readily applied on the job. They explain in detail what their organisation wants them to do in the situations they are most likely to encounter. The result is improved safety, performance and morale.