Boilerplate Language In Policies

Today’s burning question: We are in the process of updating our fire department policies. Many of our current policies have a boilerplate statement saying “company officers shall enforce this policy” and the “failure to follow this policy will result in disciplinary action.” Is this kind of language really necessary? It seems to me that company officers are expected to follow the rules without being told to do so in each policy, and that members understand that the failure to follow policies will result in discipline. Do we have to put that in every policy?

Answer: While there is nothing inherently wrong with including such language… I am not a fan of it. The boilerplate language implies that your members are not inclined to follow the rules unless they are threatened by the department. It also suggests that company officers have to be reminded in every policy to enforce the rules. Both of those implications send the wrong message.

Beyond that, including such language in some policies but not others raises an additional concern. Are firefighters free to violate policies that lack the boilerplate language? Do company officers have to enforce them? One could argue that by including the language in some policies but not others, the implication is the absence of such language is intentional and compliance with policies that lack the language is optional.

Then there is the question about the obligation of officers who are not company officers: what does the department expect of chief officers with regards to enforcing policies?

There are certain policy situations where we want to make officers responsible for enforcing certain specific rules (eg mandatory mask requirements, wearing of seat belts, compliance with accountability, etc.) but if too many policies include that kind of boilerplate language it tends to dilute the importance of such situations.

My recommendation is to have a policy on general rules and regulations that explains the obligation of all members to follow department policies and the responsibility of officers to enforce them. Limit the use of additional references to following and enforcing rules to situations where it is strategically necessary to highlight areas of special concern.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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