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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  1. Primary search
  2. Confine
  3. Vent
  4. Extinguish
  5. Primary salvage

When the fireground has been declared "offensive," this standard game plan will always be addressed. For example, even if you have an immediate rescue and a threatened exposure, once the rescue is complete and the exposure stabilized, the standard Primary Phase offensive game plan will be addressed (unless the mode is transitioned to defensive).

To support the Primary Phase action plan, there are support objectives that must be addressed. Objectives that support the standard Primary Phase offensive game plan are:

  1. Water supply
  2. Utility stabilization
  3. RIT = SB + BU

Support objective number 3, RIT = SB + BU, was briefly introduced in the February 2007 issue of Firehouse® and will be discussed when Command-ment VIII is published. In the meantime, the formula represents the following contemporary fireground risk management progression: once the rapid intervention team (RIT) is deployed, the two-out standby team dons self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) facepieces and transitions offensively as the backup (BU) team. The net benefit is you end up with RIT fulfilling the two-out standby role and a backup team protecting egress within the hazard area.

The key to successful on-scene incident action planning is to use a structured, systematic process that is easy to remember, easy to do and can be done quickly. The systematic process can't be complicated or existential. I like and recommend the "Four Box Action Plan." The seven steps mentioned previously fit neatly into this four-box mental progression. The seven-steps make for interesting classroom discussion; the Four-Box Action Plan works great on the street, even at three in the morning. Stewart Rose, a respected colleague and friend, developed the original Four-Box concept and it works great.

Rather than being overwhelmed by all the strategic and tactical stuff you need to do as the first on-scene officer, you simply progress one box at a time. These are not literal boxes; I'm not suggesting that you respond with four cardboard boxes on your lap that you open like birthday gifts. These are figurative boxes that you open and close as part of a consistent mental progression. In other words, when you arrive, open box one and address its contents; close box one and open box two, and so on. The Four Box concept structures and sequences the action plan process:

Box One: Arrival Report

Box Two: Big Six Size-Up

Box Three: Big Six Report

Box Four: Establish Command Post

The first officer on-scene will "open" boxes one, two and three. The first officer may or may not open box four. Once two fire officers are on scene, box four must be opened by one of the two officers.

Open Box One: Arrival Report

Peering through the windshield, the first officer on scene delivers a brief arrival report. This report is not a speech; your speech will happen after you've exited the apparatus, gathered your wits and investigated the fireground. The arrival report consists of declaring side A, giving a quick situation snapshot, initiating command, establishing or delegating water supply, and declaring the mode as "investigating." This brief arrival report would sound something like this:

"Engine 33 on scene, house fire. Engine 33 is side A, second engine bring a hydrant. Initiating command, investigating four sides. Update to follow."

Remember, you'll give your speech later — after you've got all the information. Don't attempt to paint the picture when you don't know what the entire picture should look like. You've told responders what they need to know: there is a house fire, they won't be canceled and you're getting more information. This level of clear, calm, concise communication requires some playbook front-loading so that everybody knows what the words mean and what the expectation are. "Investigating" is calling the play (the initial action plan). (For more information, refer to Command-ment VI, Firehouse®, August 2007.) Close box one.

Open Box Two: Big Six Size-Up