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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Primary Phase objectives that support the standard offensive game plan would be:

  • Water supply
  • RIT = SB + BU
  • Utility stabilization

The assignment to "investigate and report" the attic conveys the need for more information, that you don't want to be sucker-punched by unseen fire growth concealed in attic voids. Obviously, there is not much of an attic in the house shown; however, there could be some tricky voids, particularly adjacent to knee-walls. By the time an attic problem is recognized from the street, a positive outcome is unlikely. The point is not to ignore an attic.

Besides on-scene firefighters, the most (confirmed) value is on floor 1; thus primary salvage would be assigned early.

I should mention that there doesn't need to be a team for each objective; one team can be assigned multiple objectives. For example, a single team could be assigned floor 1 objectives: primary salvage and investigate for occupants. Likewise, one engine company could conceivably take care of three objectives during this house fire: confine, vent and extinguish. If they establish their own water supply, one fully staffed engine company could address four standard game plan objectives. Likewise, action plan implementation isn't linear; many objectives progress simultaneously.

Using TRIPOD to call the play (Command-ment VI, Firehouse®, August 2007), after the investigating mode (the 'I' in TRIPOD), the initial operational mode would be declared as: "Transitional from side A on floor 2." Once the two-out standby team is deployed, the mode would transition to "Offensive from side A on floor 2." (No need to announce that a standby team is deployed; by calling the offensive "play," you have communicated that a two-out standby team is deployed.)

Call to Action

There is nothing more important that a fire officer does than to identify problems and plan to address the problems identified. Not knowing what the problems are compromises safety and compromises a successful outcome — even when tactics are being performed flawlessly, everything can suddenly go wrong if the most significant problem has not been identified. Thus another of my Command Caveats:

Although you can't always identify 100% of the problems, you can always identify 100% of the problems that can be identified.

As strategic resources, competent fire officers must have the ability to identify problems and to develop an IAP that will solve those problems. A structured, systematic approach to incident action planning is built upon a foundation of size-up information that includes:

  1. The status of life safety
  2. The determination of risk versus value
  3. Knowing what and where the problems are
  4. Your resource capability

Separate your incidents into "phases of incident control." Doing so will simplify action plan development and action plan management. So that you're not overwhelmed, compartmentalize the action plan process. Know how to quickly get your arms around all responding apparatus and personnel; informed, proactive strategists know how to create an island of calm to think and plan amid the storm of those first five on-scene minutes. Choose to be a proactive strategist rather than a reactive tactician. Once you can do these things, you will be on your way to command competence.

Update to Follow

Not only must the action plan be implemented, the plan must be disseminated and managed. Command-ment IX will dovetail with this article by introducing you to a couple of nifty incident management tools: the Status Board and the Action Plan Template. The Status Board is used by the first officer on scene to quickly develop and supervise the initial action plan; the Action Plan Template is a command post tool used to manage the overall action plan. Both tools are intended to ensure that nothing strategic or tactical is delayed or overlooked.

A master craftsman firefighter knows how to use tactical tools; a master craftsman fire officer knows how to use strategic tools. Like the Dude's rug in the film "The Big Lebowski," Command-ment IX will tie the whole thing together.