The Ten Command-ments Of Intelligent & Safe Fireground Operations

Mark Emery continues this series with Command-ment VII: Thou Shall Complete the Seven-Step Action Plan Process.

Building the Incident Action Plan Fire officers are strategic resources; firefighters are task resources. As a strategic resource, a competent fire officer must have the ability to identify problems and, to address those problems, develop an incident action plan (IAP) that is built upon a...

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The incident management system shall maintain accountability for the location and function of each company or unit at the scene of the incident. (Recall from previous Command-ments that this level of accountability is called "Tactical Accountability.")

NFPA 1561, 7.5.14, states that:

The incident commander shall be responsible for developing and/or approving an incident action plan (IAP). This plan shall be communicated to all staged and assigned members at an incident. (NFPA 1561 allows for verbal action plan communication only during the "initial stages" of the incident.)

The Model Procedures of Structural Firefighting (NFSIMS), first edition, page 17, describes an incident action plan as:

A well-thought-out, organized course of events developed to address all phases of incident control within a specified time. (The Model Procedures manual does not describe what any of these "phases of incident control" are.)

Page A-6 again describes an incident action plan:

The strategic goals, tactical objectives and support requirements for the incident.

The Student Manual, page SM-3-9, of the original U.S. Fire Administration course Managing Company Tactical Operations (MCTO) described an incident action plan as:

An organized course of action that addresses all phases of incident control within a specified time. (As with the Model Procedures, MCTO does not reveal what any of these "phases of incident control" are.)

You may have noticed that these incident action plan recitations are very similar. Both MCTO and the Model Procedures specify that an incident action plan must address "all phases of incident control within a specified time." Neither manual hints at what any of the "phases" are. In fact, I have not been able to find what one of these phases of incident control are, let alone all of them. I do like the phase concept, so I came up with my own:

  1. The Primary Phase
  2. The Secondary Phase

The Primary Phase is that portion of your action plan before the incident has been stabilized; the Secondary Phase is that portion of your action plan after the incident has been stabilized. Recall that during any incident you have three strategic priorities:

  1. Life safety
  2. Incident stabilization (since stabilization is a strategic priority, it makes sense for everybody to know when the incident has been stabilized)
  3. Property conservation

Separating the incident into two phases makes action planning easier and less stressful. Typical square-foot action plan tactical objectives can be divided into phases of incident control. Primary Phase objectives address each strategic priority and work toward incident stabilization. Secondary Phase objectives are assigned after the incident has been stabilized and the command post has announced "Primary Phase complete."

Square-mile incident action planners have the luxury of discretionary time ("The next operational period planning meeting is at 1800 hours. Be sure to get some sleep and eat dinner before the meeting.") As a square-foot fireground action planner, you don't have the luxury of discretionary time to think and plan — the "operational period" is in your face. Because the incident is unstable, the Primary Phase is the urgent, chaotic, high-stress phase of an incident. Discretionary time separates the proactive informed strategist from the reactive uninformed tactician. Proactive square-foot strategists know how to create moments of discretionary time; reactive square-foot tacticians don't know how to create discretionary time.

Recall from Command-ment I (Firehouse®, March 2007) that the purpose of parking or basing apparatus and having personnel report to temporary staging at the command post is to create an island of discretionary time amid the storm of those first five on-scene minutes. Even if you have 12 alarms and the Vatican Swiss Guard responding, everybody has been given an assignment. This simple yet powerful resource management technique reduces the pressure of those first five minutes on-scene. You will never again hear, "We're a block out, where do you want us?"

By quickly getting your arms around all responding resources, and portioning tactical objectives into strategic phases of incident control, action planning becomes relatively quick and easy. For example, during any offensive fireground operation a standard Primary Phase game plan emerges: