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Bylaws and SOP's The difference is...??

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  • Bylaws and SOP's The difference is...??

    While writing the bylaws for our department I've been wondering how to differentiate between the two. Bylaws should be a broad outline of fundamental rules and SOP's more specific and .... well, and what? How and where do you draw the line between the two?
    Thinking out loud here, bylaws should be harder to change. SOP's could be changed at the discretion of the chief?



  • #2
    We have bylaws which govern the "business" end of the fire company, ie, who can run for what office, the qualifications needed to train on the apparatus, the duties of the officers, ff's, board members, president thru treasurer, etc.

    SOP's are for "on-scene" activity at fires, drills, rescues... basically ANYTHING that is "firefighting" related.

    In our company, the SOP's are written by the "Chief's committee" (all line officers have input... Engineering officers write SOP on driving/pumping/aerial work, but all officers have a say). By-laws are MUCH harder to change.

    If interested I can send you some additional info via "snail mail".


    • #3
      Lynn, by-laws are a formal, legal document specifying what actions will be taken. By-laws are typically used to set a 'code of conduct' for the business side of a corporation. By-laws specify what officers are required, what their terms of office are, how and when replacements are elected, what happens if someone in office quits, etc. By-laws are usually difficult to amend (usually 75% majority required). That's done on purpose so that a change in by-laws requires a true general consensus that the change is desirable. Not a spur of the moment decision.

      SOP's are usually a set of rules or procedures that represent what the "big cheese" wants to happen in certain situations. SOP's are flexible based on each individuals experiences. I have an SOP that says the first engine on the scene decides whether to lay in (we are in a rural area). That SOP will stand so long as my drivers continue to have 30+ years of experience. When they stop showing up and get replaced by younger folks, the SOP will probably change to say "If smoke is showing, don't think, just lay the line".

      Our by-laws generally get minor changes every couple of years. Our SOP's are reviewed twice a year, at our officers meeting to determine "What lessons have we learned in the last few months that we'd like to take advantage of?". (Another way of saying, what mistake might we avoid in the future!!)

      Hope this helps.



      • #4
        What's been said here is essentially correct. Let me spin this a different way, In case there is any confusion...

        The fire company I belong to is a private, non-profit corporation. We are not a govenrment agency, a quasi-governmental entity, or anything else like that. By law in PA, a corporation must have (i) a corporate charter, issued by the Commonwealth Department of State, (ii) a corporate Constitution, detailing the purpose, authority, ownership, legal form, and dissilution procedures of the coproration, and (iii) corporate By-Laws, specifying the duties of corporate officers, elections, membership procedures, sanctions and disciplinary rules, legal form and location of operations, and other items that define the way the corporation operates AS A BUSINESS. The latter two items are required to obtain and hold the Charter. Corporate laws are similar in most states, but there may be variations, so you should consult counsel if you have a touchy issue in the works.

        Firefighting operations are also governed by a set of SOGs (we have "guidelines", not "procedures", but it doesn't matter for the purposes of this discussion). These govern the way in which firefighting operations work on a day-to-day basis, but have no direct legal standing in the governance of the corporation itself. The SOGs can never supercede the By-Laws, as the By-Laws have legal standing as the rules by which the corporation is to be run, but the By-Laws may supercede the SOGs, should they come into conflict. In short, for example, the Commonwealth could care less how we position apparatus at the scene of a fire or whether everyone is using SCBA, but they care a lot about how we elect people to the Board of Directors that are responsible for legal compliance of corporate operations.

        In contrast, municipal fire departments that are literally government agencies in their own right (like NY, LA, etc., etc.) have no By-Laws at all. There is no need for a set of guidelines for corporate governance, since they are not corporations, but rather are part of a government entity. These departments will generally have SOPs, however, which take on legal standing as "work rules" for their compliment of career firefighters (which is what SOPs really are on the volunteer side too, if you think about it).

        Now, this isn't to say that there aren't fire companies out there who don't understand the difference and, as a result, write SOP/SOG issues into their By-Laws, or something like that. It happens, and it probably doesn't really do any major legal or functional damage to these companies in the grand scheme of things.

        Hope this helps. If you have questions on where some specific issues fit, feel free to email me and I'll try to help you out.


        • #5
          Our 501-C-3, not for profit corporation, is located in Indiana. Our laws sound much like those of Bob in PA. We have a Charter from the State, Articles of Incorporation (Which sounds like his Corporation Constitution), and By-Laws. These are all for the regulation of the corporate business.

          Our SOPs are prepared by the members, with the leadership of the Chief & other officers.
          They are then effective when approved by the corporation's Board of Directors. They are subordinate to and cannot supersede the By-laws, Articles of Incorporation, or state laws.

          The By-Laws are altered, amended, or added by the following process.

          1. Written proposals are presented to the Board of Directors at it's November meeting. They are read and made a part of the minutes.

          2. They are read again at the December meeting of the Board of Directors and again entered into the minutes.

          3. They are voted on at the January meeting of the members of the corporation. This is the corporation's official annual meeting.

          4. Those approved by the membership are submitted to the Secretary of State for official state approval.

          This process is somewhat cumbersome, but it effectively limits off-the-cuff changes. The time involved allows for proper discussion and time to think it over (or rethink it) before action is taken.

          [This message has been edited by DD (edited May 22, 2000).]


          • #6
            The Major difference between Bylaws and SOP's are simply that Bylaws need membership approval prior to change. SOP's on the other hand shold be somewhat fluid changing as new problems or solutions present themselves. SOP's should govern the service aspect of the department, i.e. response assignments, types of turnouts worn, do's and don'ts on the fire ground and in the station. Bylaws govern election procedures, how money is spent etc. Things that support the fuction of the department.


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