If you took a poll of experienced firefighters and asked them to identify a common problem at incident scenes, how many of them would answer that there were too many chiefs all trying to stir the fireground "pot" at the same time? Photo by Bill Eisner Command interaction involves...
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In coordinating the chief officer resources that are responding, it should be absolutely clear to all chief officers that they must report to the IC on their arrival to receive an assignment. This isn't a problem if the roles are clearly assigned and understood beforehand. However, what should be avoided is for any chiefs to respond and assign themselves to roles or positions without checking in with the IC.
One suggestion for the efficient use of the arriving chief officers is to keep them in staging with their companies until their units are needed. If a specific job is identified that requires a chief officer, the operations chief or the IC can request a chief from staging to take the assignment.
The use of identifying vests for functional areas and sector assignments are an important tool to minimize any confusion. Chief officers working in these areas must wear their vests to assist incoming resources to readily identify who they should be reporting to at the scene.
Don't discount the value of using a coordinator to help manage the influx of chiefs officers. An IC has many areas to manage at a scene; assigning chief officers is just one of them. Just as incoming units will be requesting instructions, so too will incoming chiefs. The coordinator will be able to develop a list of available chief officers and assist the IC in assigning these chiefs as the situation dictates.
Another aspect of command interaction is the working relationship between the chief officers operating at the scene. Coordination is paramount here.
Interaction implies an exchange of information between personnel. On a fireground, good communication is at the heart of effective coordination of resources and activities. One process of the command structure is the assignment of chief officers to various sectors on the scene. These sectors will work with the available resources in a coordinated manner with the other sectors to ensure that the overall strategy that has been set for the incident will be followed.
When sector commanders are designated, they need to have certain information available to them to help manage their segments of the incident effectively. Sector commanders must know the overall strategy that has been set. If the strategy is a defensive operation and all units are to operate on the exterior, then that should be spelled out clearly to the sector commanders. Likewise, when a sector commander is assigned, the resources that already have been committed to that sector and the incoming resources should be communicated to the sector command.
Two-way communications are vital. Frequent progress reports from the sector commanders provide snapshots of what is occurring in their sectors and can help the IC determine whether the set goals are being accomplished. Progress reports also let the IC address any concerns that he or she has about conditions, status of resources and safety.
As the IC develops the command structure for an incident, the possibility of personalities getting in the way of smooth operations may occur. An IC should not hesitate to exert strong control over all of the incident resources, including the chief officers. It may be necessary to be very assertive in dealing with other chiefs, especially those who try to work outside of the incident's command structure; however, once that control is established, the IC can concentrate on managing the incident and not the personalities.
Command interaction implies that the incident commander have some knowledge of the chief officers operating at the scene. If a good working relationship exists between chief officers, an IC will have some knowledge of the capabilities of other chief officers operating at the scene. Those planning sessions beforehand will help us to evaluate each others skills and develop a trust in the judgment of another chief officer.
At a multi-alarm fire where I was the IC, the top floor of an exposure was a critical area. The fire had spread from the original fire building and was traveling into the cockloft of the exposure.
The second-alarm response included an experienced chief officer with a reputation for sound judgment. From prior experience, we had established a trust in each other's capabilities. On his arrival, I communicated to him the sector assignment, the problems that had been identified and the units that were operating in that sector already. He would tell me what he had in his sector and what resources he needed.