Leading Edge: Matching competencies to service levels
By Don Jolley
My November column outlined the key decisions and components in the development of the BC Structure Firefighters Competency and Training Playbook, particularly the decision to focus on competencies rather than certification. Now let’s focus on the standard itself and what makes it work.
The fundamental keys to the Playbook standard are the inclusion of relevant NFPA 1001 competencies for each service and training level, and the omission of other non-applicable competencies. For example, the exterior level does not include competencies on fire hydrants, as hydrants are rarely present in rural communities. In addition, the standard incorporates other non-NFPA 1001 competencies in firefighter safety, including incident command system 100, electrical and gas safety, and emergency scene traffic control.
The Playbook identifies three operational service and training levels: exterior operations; interior operations; and full service. The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) decides which service level to implement. Bridging is built into the standard to help departments (and members) advance from one level to the other. All three service levels require that written and detailed operational guidelines and policies be incorporated into operations. To comply with any level of the standard, all training programs must include detailed lesson plans, records, and evaluation instruments.
The full-service level encompasses the entire spectrum of the NFPA 1001 Standard for Firefighter Professional Qualifications. It generally applies to well-funded and organized departments but can be adopted by any department.
The interior service level is directed at jurisdictions that have primarily residential buildings but that may also have a limited number of more complex structures such as a school or stores. The interior level specifies that for firefighters to enter these more complex buildings, there must be a current and exercised pre-incident plan with which each firefighter is familiar. If no such pre-incident plan exists, or if the pre-plan is not practised regularly by each firefighter, then an interior-level firefighter may not enter that structure. The interior level of the Playbook is anticipated to be adopted by only a limited number of departments that have specific needs and/or for political reasons.
The exterior service level restricts firefighters to operations from outside of any structure until any IDLH (immediately dangerous to life or health) hazard is eliminated. However, basic training in SCBA is still critical for hazardous environments exterior to a fire (structural or vehicle). The criteria for the exterior level, which prohibits interior entry, are limited training, limited experience, lack of resources for a proper rapid intervention team, and/or other safety measures.
The Playbook introduces two new fire-services positions, the team leader and the risk-management officer; both primarily function within the exterior service level, but also have application at the interior level.
The team leader focuses on functional activities on the fire ground. Team leaders should be in place for all operational roles such as ventilation, salvage, fire attack, rehab, and medical care This role addresses the requirement by WorksafeBC for direct supervision of all workers. In more established fire services, the team leader role may be assumed by a designated company officer. The team leader does not replace or supersede the apparatus officer role; the team leader specifically supports fire-ground operations by ensuring that all firefighters receive direct supervision to ensure safety and effectiveness. A designated team leader training program was developed and is being delivered.
The risk-management officer is a designated department member who must be aware of, and responsible for, all policy and regulatory compliance. While this role is usually assumed by the fire chief, there are occasions during which the chief is not fluent in such “adminsteria” or chooses to delegate the responsibility. This role is almost exclusively intended for the exterior service level, and a person designated into this role must undertake requisite training as identified in the Playbook.
Training to each service level can be done internally or by a third-party. As noted, certification is not a required component, therefore each department can target and provide its training as local capabilities dictate. Instructor competencies exist for each service level; the AHJ must ensure the competencies are met and maintained.
Through the use of selective NFPA 1001 competencies, accompanied by critical supplementary programming and AHJ decision making, firefighters across British Columbia should be safer and more effective than ever under the new training Playbook standard.
Don Jolley is the fire chief for the City of Pitt Meadows, and the first vice-president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org