One of the key elements to the success of any fireground operation is the ability of the incident commander to keep several steps ahead of how the incident is unfolding. Proper planning and deployment of resources has a direct impact not only on the success of the operation but also in the safety of the members operating at that incident.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) case studies conducted after firefighter fatalities, the most common threads listed as contributing factors to firefighter LODDs are:
- Breakdowns in the Incident Management System
- Breakdowns of accountability systems on the fireground.
- Breakdowns in fireground communication.
- Lack of recognition of key aspects related to fire behavior and building construction.
Some departments are blessed with an abundance of resources that are available on an initial alarm assignment when a report of a working fire is received, but we all know and realize that is only a very small percentage of the American fire service as a whole. A majority of the time, only one officer will fill the command role and will not have the luxury of having several other chiefs on scene quickly to help provide the command aspect that is imperative for safe and efficient operations.
A simple way for an incident commander (IC) to keep track of what is taking place and what needs to take place on their fireground is through the use of a well-designed tactical worksheet (see Figure 1.) While it may be true that checklists and forms do not perform rescues or put out fires, they can provide a great training document prior to an incident or spark the memory during an actual incident. The use of a tactical worksheet or checklists should never be meant to make decisions for the IC; rather they should provide a "memory jogger" or a source of quick documentation for them. Let's face it, if the IC needs to constantly be referring to the tactical worksheet to make a decision maybe that is not the right person to be in that position.
The Right Worksheet For Your Department
An important element of a tactical worksheet is that the person using it is both comfortable and familiar with it. There are many worksheets that have been developed that contain great information and work flawlessly for one department or a particular individual, but may be difficult for someone else to utilize due to the training that the individual may have received or the operating policies/procedures of their particular department. There is no universal worksheet design that is absolutely correct for everyone or department -- again this is dictated by a lot of various factors. It is important though that command officers from a department all agree on a final design to be used for their department so they all are operating to the same "sheet of music" as well as making certain that the final product is in line with department policies and procedures.
A sample of a tactical worksheet that mirrors the way that I was trained and fits within the parameters that my department operates is shown in Figure 2 (download a PDF version below). Each section of the worksheet has particular importance in relation to ensuring that people will be operating safely on the fireground.
Every incident begins with the completion of a risk-hazard analysis. This analysis needs to be completed on every incident prior to committing firefighters and should be based on the department's risk/benefit policy mandated by NFPA 1500. Initial first arriving company officers that arrive prior to command personnel should be completing this assessment mentally on each call that they respond. This information serves as the foundation for all other decisions made on the fireground.