Fire department ride-along policy

A fire department ride-along policy allows for community involvement while giving students and student interns the chance to learn more about the job.

September 14, 2021

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Like their law enforcement counterparts, people often ask fire departments if they can go along on a fire callout. Fires and other incidents are already dangerous, which means they're fraught with potential problems and conflicts. So you must develop a fire department ride-along policy. You'll need one to determine who is eligible to go on ride-alongs, how frequently, what they're allowed and not allowed to do, and even what they should wear.

Sometimes called citizen ride-along programs, observers, or even fire explorers, people are fascinated with their local fire departments and will look for a way to be involved. A ride-along is a way to let your community see the valuable work your department does.

As the Hobbs (New Mexico) Fire Department said about their own ride-along policy:

The Hobbs Fire Department encourages community involvement in the operation of the Fire Department. This allows interested citizens and student interns to ride as observers with the fire department personnel for legitimate civic or educational reasons. The program is to provide the public and students the opportunity to observe activities of Fire and EMS services to gain a better understanding of the duties and responsibilities for fire and EMS personnel.

This article will explain what a fire department ride-along policy is, why you need one, and how to develop one for your department.

What is a fire department ride-along policy?

A fire department ride-along policy establishes the rules and requirements to allow non-emergency personnel to go along with firefighters on a fire callout or other emergency response. Because fires and other emergencies are dangerous, there is a real risk that ride-along observers could be injured or killed. The ride-along policy should address these risks and state the requirements that observers must follow to minimize that risk.

Your fire department ride-along policy should address things like:

  • What times and days ride-alongs are allowed. Some policies specify the actual times, such as 0800–2000.
  • Who is and is not allowed to participate, such as 16 years or older.
  • Ride along rules and conduct of participants, including what they may or may not do, where they're expected to stay during callouts (usually in the vehicle), and even the use of cameras during an incident.
  • HIPAA requirements and forms to prevent observers from sharing a victim's personal medical information, plus a confidentiality agreement form.
  • Dress code, including clothing observers should and should not wear, colors of clothing, and even the types of shoes or boots they should wear.
  • A liability waiver form.

Why a fire department ride-along policy is important

Being a firefighter is already a dangerous business. They race toward danger, run into burning buildings, and deal with the aftermath of explosions, car accidents, and chemical spills. Having untrained civilians along to observe all this is even riskier because they don't have the training to participate.

However, fire departments are also a community asset, and people want to see how it operates. High school and college students, not to mention EMT and paramedic students, all want to make educated choices about their careers. So it's good PR to allow non-firefighters to see how you do your work.

Your policy will establish the rules that observers must follow to reduce the chance of injury or death. It will keep people safe, help them properly represent the department to the general public (e.g., the dress code), and even help prospective firefighters decide if this is the career for them.

How to develop a ride-along policy for your fire department

Creating a ride-along policy works just like creating any other policy for your department. It starts with getting buy-in from top leadership. Without their support, you won't be able to get full participation from the rank and file.

Next, you'll want to build a policy creation team. These are the people who will assemble the research, write the policies, and provide feedback and changes. The size of your department will often determine how big the team needs to be.

From there, you and your team need to:

Final thoughts

Ride alongs are a great way for fire departments to do community outreach, create transparency, and encourage students and young people to consider a career as a firefighter. Of course, ride-alongs are also risky, which means certain standards need to be established to reduce the risk and keep the observers as safe as possible. A fire department ride-along policy will help you set those standards and determine exactly who is qualified to ride-along.

PowerDMS has worked for years to help fire departments create and manage policies for issues like uniforms, drug and alcohol use, infection control, and ride-alongs. Learn about the seven policies your fire department should have in writing today.

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