Roles & Responsibilities Of General Staff Officers

The incident command system (ICS) is described as an "all risk" system that can effectively manage any type of incident. The key concept of "all risk" is that the same command system is used at fire, emergency medical, rescue or related events. The...


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The incident command system (ICS) is described as an "all risk" system that can effectively manage any type of incident. The key concept of "all risk" is that the same command system is used at fire, emergency medical, rescue or related events. The underlying reasons that the ICS should handle all types of alarms are ease of development, implementation and use. If the system is too complicated, it will not be utilized.

One principle that allows the system to be "all risk" is the function of delegation. The incident command system has a standardized way of delegating at the strategic level. The five general staff officer positions provide the framework for building incident strategy. This article will review the roles and responsibilities of the five general staff officers in the ICS:

  • Command.
  • Operations.
  • Planning.
  • Logistics.
  • Administration/finance.

Each of the general staff positions is headed by a "section chief" who should be selected based on qualifications rather than rank. All of the supervisory positions of the system should be filled according to education and experience to perform the job at hand.

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Photo by Anthony Miccicke
The incident command system has a standardized way of delegating authority at the strategic level. Here, a deputy chief directs exterior operations as heavy fire vents from the attic of a vacant 2 1/2-story dwelling in Reading, PA, on July 22, 1996.

The ICS does not rely on rank structure but on functional positions. All of the general staff officers help develop the incident action plan. They have the responsibility to supervise the sectors and units that are assigned under their charge. Typically, the members who are qualified to fill these positions are ranking officers but not always.

The responsibilities of command include the oversight and management of the entire incident. The incident commander (IC) must determine the incident priorities, strategies, action plan and resources needed. Scene safety, liaison with outside agencies and release of information to the media are additional duties for the IC to handle. The incident commander must establish and operate out of a command post. The command post can range from the front seat of the first-in engine to a designated command post vehicle. (For more details about the role of IC see Basics Of Command, "Duties & Responsibilities Of The Incident Commander," October 1996).

Next, the operation section chief is held accountable for all of the tactical functions at the alarm. Typically, when the operation section is activated, it is because the incident is large or complex. The incident commander's attention will need to be focused at a broader, more strategic level than just on the incident operations.

The operations section chief actually manages the "line work" at the incident. The staging sector officer reports to the operations chief because staging is a tactical function. At smaller situations, some ICs have established an operations section. In most cases, the person that serves as the initial IC is assigned this role. A word of caution: the IC should not delegate away his or her job. The rule of thumb is that several of the other general staff jobs should be needed before it is time to set up the operations section. Don't be obligated to make an operations section when it is not needed.

The next major section is planning. The planning section chief is the "brains" of the system and is responsible for collection, interpretation and dissemination of information. The plans chief charts what is happening and projects what is going to happen. Consider a hazardous material event; "Plans" must gather future information such as weather forecasts, evacuation routes and effects of chemical exposure. Five functions fit under the planning section: situation status, resources status, documentation, demobilization and technical specialists.

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