The Ten Command-Ments - Command-Ment I

The Ten Command-ments Of Intelligent & Safe Fireground Operations By MARK EMERY

Command-ment I: Thou Shall Have One Competent Incident Commander

Having a fireground incident commander is easy; somebody arrives at the incident, announces "I'm in command," dons a colorful vest and begins narrating the incident using a portable radio - nothing to it. However, being called "command" is a lot easier than commanding. There is a BIG difference between somebody in a colorful vest being called "command" and somebody competently managing the incident.

The first of the Ten Command-ments declares that you shall have one competent incident commander. Competent command is a concept worthy of exploration; exactly what is it that distinguishes a good incident commander from a great incident commander? What is it that differentiates a reactive tactician from a proactive strategist? What distinguishes a competently managed fireground from a poorly managed fireground?

This article will discuss the following components for establishing a foundation for competent command:

  1. Command responsibility
  2. Communication foundation
  3. Establishing the command post
  4. Incident equilibrium

Future articles will build upon this strategic framework; once the strategic framework of "The Ten Command-ments" is in place - and obeyed - it will be much easier for you to provide a competent command presence.

1. Command Responsibility

To obey Command-ment I requires an understanding of the fundamental responsibility of "command." The incident commander is responsible for the management of just three things:

  • Strategy
  • Resources
  • Risk

Many fire service professionals believe that the responsibility of command is "command and control." This may be true, briefly, in the early stages of an incident, but the purpose of the incident command system is to let the incident commander develop a strategy and manage resources so that objectives are accomplished that will provide strategic benefit. The incident commander must also manage risk so that the health and safety of firefighters and civilians is addressed.

An incident commander who retains tactical control - beyond the initial stage of a multi-company incident - will quickly lose strategic control of the incident. A competent incident commander will quickly delegate responsibility for tactical control to Supervisors (Divisions, Groups), during larger incidents to Directors (Branches) and at major, complex incidents to an Operations Section Chief.