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By Monique Rollin

Canadian Firefighter Magazine, Digital Edition: November 6, 2023

Municipalities typically establish and fund fire services to provide local fire protection and prevention services. These services encompass various activities, such as inspections to enforce the Fire Code, potentially leading to prosecution.

Fire Services inspectors, under subsections 21(1) and 21(2) of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, possess broad authority to assess fire safety by inspecting land or premises. If safety concerns are identified, these inspectors can enter, inspect, and issue orders to the owner or occupant to rectify the situation.

Inspectors often operate in challenging and hazardous environments. These may involve hoarder occupancy, infestations, squalor, dangerous living conditions, extreme hazards, and even illicit activities like drug production or possession of weapons. Inspectors must also handle cases involving individuals with mental health issues residing in such high-risk environments, sometimes requiring judicial authorizations.

To protect life and property, if necessary and with no other viable alternatives, statutory and criminal laws may necessitate prosecution for the sake of community safety.

In high-risk inspections, fire services must ensure that their actions are reasonable under the circumstances, considering all risk factors. This involves creating an operational plan (OPS Plan) or risk management plan, documenting risk identification and evaluation, mitigation strategies, resource allocation, stakeholder involvement, and community engagement. The impact on public and responder safety remains a top priority.

Fire inspectors need specialized training in operational plan and risk management plan development. They should also collaborate with subject matter experts and community support organizations to minimize harm to all parties involved. Failure to think and plan strategically can have significant consequences for responders, public safety, liability, and evidence collection.

The complexity and risk level of a problem dictate the time and resources required for its resolution. Complex, high-risk issues necessitate the engagement and coordination of leadership through the OPS Plan. This plan provides clear orders detailing operational boundaries (self-deployment, discretion and autonomy directions), and it establishes tasks, objectives, mobilization, and demobilization procedures. It can range from a simple two-person inspection team that may be supported by police and a locksmith to a complex operation involving multiple personnel, including police, mental health units, public health officials, outreach and victim services, refuse removal, evidence collection, and post-event security.

A crucial piece of an OPS Plan is documentation. It requires recording the what, how, and why of the operation, along with risk assessment, goals, limitations, and planned actions. Combining a well-prepared OPS Plan with an after-action report creates a powerful template that will help you evaluate and improve future operations. It will also offer insights into future training, your personnel, community partnerships or equipment needs you may need to improve your operations.

Operational planning supports comprehensive briefings, identifies vulnerabilities, and gives subject matter experts and participants a voice. It ensures personnel are assigned based on anticipated needs and addresses agency liability concerns, guaranteeing adequate internal and external resources are deployed or requested.

It will always be the responsibility of leaders to make high-quality, informed decisions that are accepted and executed in a timely manner. In the military, leaders use the SMEAC format (Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration, and Command/Communication/Control) to develop final plans, ensuring clarity and understanding.

In order to develop that SMEAC or OPS Plan we need to follow five steps:

  1. Prepare

  2. Assess and analyze

  3. Create and communicate

  4. Implement

  5. Evaluate

When we prepare, we must ask:

  • What is happening? Why do we need an OPS Plan?

  • What is the organization’s goal in approving an operational response, and how do I support that goal?

  • What is the overall mission, including goals, objectives and intent?

  • What limitations are there on my actions? (E.g., Jurisdictional, legal, resources, etc.)

As we assess, we review:

  • What is the nature of the problem facing us? What is causing the problem?

  • Has the situation changed since I started my planning process? How old is the information?

  • What are the risk factors, conditions and limitations that will affect the situation?

  • What will success look like?

When creating a plan, we need to:

  • Consider what options are there for solving the problem, and which option is best?

  • Evaluate the proposed plan against the potential actions of the subject, interested parties and the public against the limitations and requirements affecting a solution.

  • Communicate and consult with participants, subject matter experts, legal experts and community supports.

  • Ensure public safety and lawful conduct at all times.

Implementation involves:

  • A review to ensure the plan is still relevant (Operational Planning assessment never stops).

  • Reassessing all intelligence and impact factors. Ask yourself, has the environment changed? What more do you know?

  • Developing an execution strategy that includes briefings, timelines, deployment, action and safety plans, staging, entry and use of force plans, enhanced security, specialized supports, internal and external resources as well as communication plans.

Evaluation takes account of:

  • Organizational learning. Teams continuously assess their performance to identify and learn from successes and challenges. An After-Action Review (AAR) is a simple but powerful tool.

    • A good AAR is about process, policy and procedure – not personnel. It focuses on having a candid professional discussion with participation by all involved parties to develop recommendations on ways to overcome identified challenges.

  • Conducting a debrief, followed by an AAR, at the end of an operation can assist your team to learn from the implementation and sharing the results from the AAR can help create future successful strategies and avoid identified gaps in training execution, equipment and resources.

A detailed, well-researched and approved operational plan ensures all parties understand the mission, scope of their authorities, what they can do, what they cannot do, roles, responsibilities, expectations, and cooperation strategies with a goal of risk reduction practices and principles for public safety.

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