Integrated Tactical Accountability

  Part two (July 2011) discussed how to achieve and maintain tactical accountability using simple strategic tools and processes that can eliminate freelancing and make tactical accountability work. Part three will: 1. Introduce the three...


  Part two (July 2011) discussed how to achieve and maintain tactical accountability using simple strategic tools and processes that can eliminate freelancing and make tactical accountability work. Part three will: 1. Introduce the three levels of fireground freelancing. 2...


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Imagine you were the incident commander during a two-alarm building fire. Those four questions are asked during the after-action review and evidence (good or bad) was required to substantiate each judgment. If you received thumbs-up for each question – supported with documented positive evidence – what else could you ask for? (Assuming it was a round trip for everybody back to the fire station.) Any negative feedback or observations would be used to fine-tune with training. (Important note: It will never be perfect; perfect doesn’t exist. However, with ongoing training, it is possible to reduce imperfection.)

The purpose of ITAC (or ICS) is not to host a pageant of fire officers modeling colorful vests; rather, ITAC can help ensure that you achieve an appropriate balance of strategic-level stuff with tactical-level stuff. That said, you must admit that botched tactics is probably not listed among the top three problems encountered during your fireground operations. That is because good tactics (firefighter stuff) is pretty easy compared to good strategy (fire officer stuff). When was the last time you read a NIMS fatality investigation that identified bungled tactics as a contributing factor? Aggressive strategy is not easy; ITAC provides a template for executing aggressive strategy.

Three Levels of Freelancing

There are three levels of freelancing that feed off each other:

1. Strategic

2. Tactical

3. Task

Strategic-level freelancing enables tactical-level freelancing; tactical-level freelancing enables task-level freelancing. As this cycle of freelancing perpetuates, often for decades, the risk continues to ratchet up and the tension builds.

Perhaps the common image of freelancing is associated with a firefighter at task level. Visualize a firefighter wandering the fireground clutching a tool. The firefighter passes a window and notices smoke swirling slowly on the interior side of the glass. The firefighter looks around, hoists the tool and breaks the glass. Often, this is done with firefighters operating inside the building. Horizontal ventilation makes a fire grow, more so than vertical ventilation. That said, the combination of horizontal and vertical ventilation will generate the most vigorous fire conditions. (Think of a wood-burning stove; place the fuel and the heat between a wide-open damper and a wide-open flue and you have the perfect conditions for an impressive compartment fire. For more information, review my September 2008 Firehouse® article “Grading the Fireground on the ‘Curve.’ ”)

Tactical freelancing is the domain of company officers and team leaders. Visualize an engine company crew looking around for something to do. The team leader observes something shiny in the distance and off the team goes. Another example is a company officer that does not keep the team together. Visualize a solo company officer engaged in self-directed task-level recreation and has no idea where the team’s firefighters are or what they are doing.

Strategic freelancing occurs at the division/group supervisor level. An example of strategic freelancing is an incident commander making this radio announcement: “Battalion 2, on your arrival establish Division Charlie.” Battalion 2 parks on side C, looks around, formulates a side-C action plan and begins making assignments to nearby firefighters who don’t look busy. This is not how the system is supposed to work.

Battalion 2 looking around and developing the side-C action plan is strategic-level freelancing. Better for the incident commander to wait for Battalion 2 to report to the command post and provide the side-C portion of the incident commander’s overall action plan.

Ultimately, all levels of freelancing are enabled by a fourth level: Command freelancing. Command freelancing is easy to identify: visualize a chief officer wandering the fireground with a portable radio. No strategic tools, not managing from a command post. This migrating “incident commander” often serves as the gatekeeper of tactical- and task-level freelancing: “Hey Chief, can we (fill in the blank with a favorite task using a favorite tool)?” The chief replies, “Yeah, that’s a great idea. Be safe!” Such antics are evidence that the so-called incident commander:

1. Has not done size-up.

2. Does not have an action plan.

3. Has not declared the operational mode.

4. Is not managing span of control.

5. Is not coordinating objectives.

6. Has not achieved and is not maintaining tactical accountability.

Command-level freelancing begets strategic-level freelancing; strategic-level freelancing begets tactical-level freelancing; and tactical-level freelancing begets task-level freelancing.