Initial Operations

The incident management system (IMS) has been cited as the only way to safely, efficiently and effectively handle an emergency situation. To emphasize this point, there are just a few items that folks in our business can completely agree upon. The use...


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The incident management system (IMS) has been cited as the only way to safely, efficiently and effectively handle an emergency situation. To emphasize this point, there are just a few items that folks in our business can completely agree upon. The use of the incident management system seems like one of those items (agreed upon) that falls into this very narrow category.

Simply stated, fire-rescue command personnel need to function in a strong, central management position in order to be successful. In the two early articles in this series on the basics of command, we discussed the principle of the incident management system (August 1996) and then the duties and responsibilities of the incident commander (October 1996). Now, let's take a practical look at just how the system comes together and is applied at an alarm. This article will review the initial portion of incident operations.

Once a specific IMS departmental policy has been prepared and all members have been properly trained in its implementation, it is time to begin using the system. These two critical steps cannot be overlooked as foundations to the transition into IMS. Further, there are several supporting policies that must be in place and understood before the system will work as advertised. These policies deal with standard company operations, communications and dispatch procedures. Departments should reach out for help in developing and teaching these policies and procedures. Much information and assistance is available for the asking. In fact, a National Incident Management Symposium is held in Phoenix each September. This is a great place to get a wealth of information about IMS and to network with other practitioners.

After the preparation is complete and the apparatus is responding to a call for help, "the rubber meets the road." Upon arrival, the apparatus is properly placed, taking advantage of the visual size-up information and topography. The officer must ensure that the area is safe to operate in, considering that the situation can change rapidly (apparatus placement and scene safety are topics that should get consideration at all alarms). The system gets started by the first-arriving officer making a brief initial report (BIR). Six items make up the BIR:

Confirm incident address. Incident description. Incident conditions. Request for assistance, if needed. Initial action plan. Assumption of command.

Let's take a detailed look at each item and see how it is applied.

The company officer indicates that his or her unit has arrived on location by restating the incident address. This action will confirm the incident address to responding apparatus as well as letting the Communications Center correct any mistake that could have been made in locating the incident. One example: "Engine 10 to Communications on location at 4315 Jones Terrace." At this point, the Communications Center can make required adjustments if needed, such as, "Communications to Engine 10, the correct address is 4315 Jones Street."

Next, the incident description is transmitted by the arriving company officer. This action continues to paint a picture for the additional responding companies as well as the command officer. It sounds like this: "Engine 10 to Communications on location at 4315 Jones Street with a two-story ordinary-construction single-family dwelling." Based on this part of the BIR, the mental preparation should be enhanced for the responding units. Considerations for specific equipment and procedures are cued by this information. As part of the IMS procedures, there should be a standard incident description list that is used for this part of the BIR. Building construction descriptions should follow the five National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) building construction types. Remember, the incident management system is designed for "all risks" (all types of calls). Therefore, the BIR should be applied at incidents other than structural fires. One example might be, "Engine 10 to Communications on location at 4315 Jones Street with a two-vehicle automobile accident."

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