The Ten Command-ments Of Intelligent & Safe Fireground Operations

Mark Emery continues this series with Command-ment IX: Thou shall address three strategic priorities by supervising NINE primary phase tactical objectives.


The strategic priority Action Plan Template (APT) is an easy-to-learn tool that will quickly produce an appropriate incident action plan. A strategic priority Action Plan Template can be developed for virtually any type of incident. It's time to discuss options for supervising and managing the...


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Between the command post and task-level firefighters there are two important connections that ensure the strategic thread is not compromised: the team leader and a division supervisor. The team leader (usually a company officer) is always with the team (firefighters). Recall from Command-ment II that team leaders must C.A.R.E. for their team members by monitoring conditions, air, radio and egress. In addition, team leaders are responsible for personnel accountability.

Although the team leader is with the team, he or she should not be operating at task level. When a team leader is at task level, it's impossible for that leader to C.A.R.E. for team members. Except for training, it is unacceptable for a team leader to be at task level while team members watch.

So that the command post does not exceed a span of control of five, team leaders report to a division (or group) supervisor. Thus, the (figurative) strategic thread originates at the command post and extends to a division supervisor, extends from the division supervisor to assigned team leaders, and from team leaders to the members of each team. Establishing this strategic thread is essential if you are to achieve and maintain tactical accountability and eliminate freelancing — that's right, I said eliminate freelancing. Integrated tactical accountability eliminates both strategic freelancing and eliminates tactical freelancing.

So that words mean something, let's clarify a few common fireground role and responsibility words: strategy, tactic, method and task.

STRATEGY: Originates at the command post

Declare operational mode: "Main Street Command is offensive from side A on floor 2."

Determine stabilization strategy: Confine the fire to floor 2 and protect exposures.

Draft stabilization action plan: Evacuate and stabilize exposures, confine the fire to floor 2, coordinate with ventilation, stabilize the attic, extinguish the fire.

TACTIC: Tactical objective assigned to a team leader by a division/group supervisor

Tactical objective: Ventilation

METHOD: How the team will accomplish the tactical objective

Ventilation method: Positive pressure

TASK: How team members will execute the selected method

Tasks to complete objective: Obtain and position gas blower on side A, start the blower, establish exhaust opening on side D, pressurize occupancy, determine effectiveness of ventilation, monitor side D exposure and soffit, etc.

Here's where fireground strategy breaks down: If you simply assign a team leader the objective "ventilation" and let the team leader determine the method of ventilation, this is method-level freelancing could easily produce an uncoordinated offensive operation. (Team leaders have a propensity to select an objective that offers the most tactical entertainment.)

Somebody at a strategic level needs to ensure that the method does not conflict with the overall strategy. In short, strategic-level freelancing begets tactical-level freelancing, and tactical-level freelancing begets method-level freelancing. Method-level freelancing often places firefighters in the wrong place at the wrong time. An example would be firefighters breaking windows while teams are inside a smoke-filled occupancy. The ensuing rapid fire growth is equivalent to opening the dampers on a wood-burning stove: once the dampers are open, the fire intensifies quickly.

Strategic Tools

Competent firefighters know how to use tactical tools: hose, rope, nozzles, axes, pumps, hooks, ladders, saws, fans, etc. Likewise, competent fire officers know how to use strategic tools. Two of the tools that I use are the Incident Status Board and the Action Plan Template.

The Action Plan Template is used by the incident commander at the command post. It is used as a quick reference during the heat of battle. (The Action Plan Template will be discussed in more detail in Command-ment X.) The Action Plan Template is used much like the laminated game plan used on the sideline by NFL offensive and defensive coordinators during football games. Photo 1 shows Seattle Seahawks Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator Mike Holmgren with a ledger-sized, laminated offensive game plan. Does Mike Holmgren know the offense of the Seahawks? Absolutely, yes; you could say that he is unconsciously competent.

Why then do professional football coaches, who possess a wealth of knowledge and experience, need to use a strategic "crutch" on the sidelines during a game? Because, during the heat of battle, they don't want to overlook something important that could change the outcome of the game.