Command Positions And The Transfer Of Command

One of the founding principles of the incident command system (ICS) is identifying a single, central and well-supported incident commander (IC). There are just a few absolutes in implementing an ICS program, and the need for an IC at all alarms is one...


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One of the founding principles of the incident command system (ICS) is identifying a single, central and well-supported incident commander (IC). There are just a few absolutes in implementing an ICS program, and the need for an IC at all alarms is one of them.

An effective analogy is the need for a football team to take direction from one head coach. The head coach receives input from the players and other coaches during the game. This allows the head coach to revise the prepared game plan, then make the best decision (call the play) based on this feedback.

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Photo by Jay L. Heath
A district chief supervises operations at a four-alarm fire in Manchester, NH, on Dec. 28, 1996.

Firefighting forces must have unity in purpose and direction to be able to win the big ones. This article will discuss command positions and the transfer of command.

The first-arriving officer (or acting officer) must be able to select one of the three command positions upon arriving at an incident. Remember, the incident command system is not driven by rank but by qualifications.

The three options are: stationary command, mobile command and passing command. The stationary command is best described as the ability of the IC to assume command in a stationary position and remain there until relieved. It's best if the IC is able to obtain a continual visual perspective of two sides of the incident from the command post. Further, the command post must be in a safe location that does not cause traffic problems for inbound apparatus. The determining factors that should be evaluated in making this selection are the conditions of the incident and available personnel resources.

If upon arrival it is obvious that you are operating a major incident, the proper position is generally stationary command. From this position, the incident commander can better size-up the entire situation and make quality decisions. Try to always look at the "big picture" rather than getting "tunnel vision." Avoid the trap of performing tasks. If you, the IC, are doing a firefighter's job, you must ask the question, "Who is doing my job?" It is impossible to see the "big picture" through the lens of an SCBA facepiece.

One of the incident commander's primary responsibilities is to establish the strategic direction for all of the operating forces. In order to effectively and efficiently reach this goal, the IC must be able to think and evaluate a large amount of changing data and communication information quickly and correctly. A proper location should be selected to perform the important functions.

The closest area that resembles an office is the front seat of the first-arriving unit. Typically, it is parked in a place that provides a reasonable view of the incident. The front seat has a few amenities that could be very helpful during stressful times. For instance, the cab of an engine or truck has lights, weather protection, better radio equipment and reference materials to help the IC. The noise and excitement levels are a notch lower inside the cab, making this a desirable place to conduct business.

Mobile command is simply the process of assuming command while still working with your assigned company. Personnel is the driving force behind making this decision. If your presence with your company will make a difference during the initial phase of the operation, then mobile command should be selected.

As an example, a four-person engine arrives on location of a working house fire with reports of people trapped. The company officer may need to be part of the entry team to ensure firefighter safety. Further, the customers are relying on the fire department to be able to rapidly remove them from harm's way and provide medical care. A quick-moving interior attack is required to reach the priority of rescue. As you can see in this scenario, if only three members attempt to handle the necessary tasks to effect a rescue, firefighter safety would be greatly jeopardized and the customers may not be rescued.

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