Control measure knowledge

Most situations that incident commanders are faced with are not unique and are foreseeable. In resolving an incident, commanders use their own experience and knowledge of guidance, together with that of the command team and crew members. However, incident commanders may occasionally be presented with a situation that is extremely unusual and not reasonably foreseeable. In this circumstance they may have to make decisions using their professional judgement.

Operational discretion relates to rare or exceptional circumstances where strictly following an operational procedure would be a barrier to resolving an incident, or where there is no procedure that adequately deals with the incident. Incident commanders need to be sufficiently aware of procedures, the skills and qualities of crew members and the capability of resources available.

Policies and procedures should be written in such a way as to give incident commanders a safe system of work for all foreseeable situations. This is best achieved by avoiding the use of rigid procedures. The ability to apply flexible policies relies on the training of personnel and commanders in the application of safe systems of work and the ability to identify hazards and select suitable control measures. For further information regarding the planning of safe operational response refer to the Health, Safety and welfare framework for the operational environment.

Outcomes which would justify applying operational discretion include:

  • Saving human life
  • Taking decisive action to prevent an incident escalating
  • Incidents where taking no action may lead others to put themselves in danger

The overarching principle should be that in the opinion of the incident commander the benefit of taking unusual, unorthodox or innovative action justifies the risk. See Decision controls.

Any decision to apply operational discretion should be the minimum necessary and only until the objective is achieved. Some areas of operational policies and procedures have to be written in a prescriptive way. In other cases, it should be written in a more flexible way with appropriate information to allow commanders and crew members to resolve an incident effectively.

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Refer to the following when developing new or reviewing existing operational policies and procedures:

    • Legislative requirements
    • National guidance and good practice
    • The service assessment of operational risk
    • The equipment and training provided for their personnel
  • Have procedures for incident commanders to record the reasons that support their decisions. The extent of the record should match the severity and/or complexity of the incident.
  • Have a process to consider whether it is appropriate to review operational policy, procedure and guidance following the application of operational discretion by an incident commander

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Consider applying operational discretion where outcomes would justify unusual, unorthodox or innovative action

  • Outcomes which would justify applying operational discretion include:
    • Saving human life
    • Taking decisive action to prevent an incident escalating
    • Incidents where taking no action may lead others to put themselves in danger
  • Return to operational procedures when the objective has been achieved

  • Contemporaneously record rationale for the decision to use operational discretion

  • When appropriate instigate a review of existing guidance following the use of operational discretion