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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The purpose of the Action Plan Template is to make sure you do not overlook something important that could change the outcome of the fireground operation – or harm firefighters.

On the reverse of the Action Plan Template is a post-incident After-Action Report form. The after-action form asks four key strategic questions to answer and discuss:

  1. Was incident command competent (explain yes or no)?
  2. Was everybody tactically accounted for at all times?
  3. Was an incident action plan formulated and communicated?
  4. Were communications clear, concise, and disciplined?

The after-action form also has a checklist of the "13 Fireground Indiscretions" and each of the "Ten Command-ments." (More on the form and how it is used in Command-ment X.) Just like Coach Holmgren's offensive game plan, the Action Plan Template is structured and systematic yet flexible.

The Incident Status Board

The incident status board, which will be discussed shortly, is simply a rigid plastic board with two narrow strips of Velcro running the length of it (top to bottom) along both side edges. Between the Velcro strips are six empty blocks separated by black lines. There is a conspicuous (and intentional) lack of text or graphics. You will soon discover how this blank unassuming board can transform the strategic competence of your fireground operations.

Imagine that you are in the right front seat of the first apparatus to arrive at the multi-family fire shown in Photos 2, 3 and 4. The status of life safety is unknown if occupied. As the first on-scene officer, if you nail your strategic responsibility the rest of the incident will evolve smooth and tight.

Nailing first on-scene strategic responsibility takes 20 or 30 seconds, sometimes less. What fire officer does not have 20 or 30 seconds to identify problems, draft an initial incident action plan and declare the operational mode? A master craftsman fire officer takes the time to nail strategic responsibility; the reactive tactician fire officer jumps off the rig, ignores strategic responsibility, grabs a tactical tool and functions as a firefighter. It doesn't matter if the rig arrives with two personnel or five personnel; the first on-scene fire officer must fulfill his or her strategic responsibility. (We'll soon address the strategic responsibility of the first officer on scene using an incident status board.)

The standard offensive game plan will work at the typical "unknown if occupied" house fire. (Typical means no rescue, nobody to evacuate and no exterior exposures to protect.) You would address the strategic priority life safety with the tactical objectives:

  • Primary search
  • Secondary search

During a typical house fire, you will stabilize the incident by completing the tactical objectives:

  • Confine
  • Ventilate
  • Extinguish
  • Overhaul

During a typical house fire, you will address conserve property by completing the tactical objective:

  • Primary salvage
  • Secondary salvage

When life safety will be addressed with the tactical objective primary search, it could be said that the overall strategy is "stabilization priority." A stabilization priority action plan implies that firefighters represent the most value on the fireground.

Two-Phase Action Plan

Fundamental to the concept of strategic priority action planning is the separation of an incident into two distinct "phases of incident control": the primary phase and the secondary phase. An incident divided into two phases streamlines action planning. During the "primary phase" of the fireground Action Plan Template (APT), there are just nine "tactical objectives" that will directly address each of your three strategic priorities. Along with nine tactical objectives, there are important "support objectives" to consider.

These nine tactical objectives and accompanying support objectives can be classified as follows (thus the link to your Big Six Size-Up!):

The APT is a guide, not a playbook. (You won't see Coach Holmgren thumbing through the Seahawk playbook while pacing the sideline during a game.) The APT requires that you determine required gallons per minute, how many search teams will be required, how the building will be ventilated, which exposure is the priority, which floor/area to search first, how many ladders, number of hoselines needed to confine and extinguish the fire, and other details.