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 conditions should now be added to the BIR. This part of the process is somewhat subjective based on the officer's perception. The officer should add the observed conditions to the report: "Engine 10 to Communications on location at 4315 Jones Street with a two-story ordinary-construction single-family dwelling, there is heavy smoke showing from the second floor."

Once again, the officer has provided vital information to the initial report that will help responding companies and the Communications Center plan for what happens next. For instance, the Communications Center may initiate move-up procedures to fill stations that will be busy handling this incident. Other responding officers can continue the mental preparation process.

Many departments will change response modes at this point in the process, based on the on-scene conditions. For instance, if the call was to a structural fire and there was nothing showing, indicating no fire, then responding units would reduce their response to non-emergency. This action limits the potential for vehicle accidents. The reverse would hold true if the call for help started off as a non-emergency situation but escalated into an emergency.

At this point in the process, if conditions require it, call for help. All emergency incidents are "front loaded" events. They require large numbers of people and equipment at the right place and at the right time to be successful. What happens in the first few minutes at an incident will determine success or failure of our operations. The company officer does not need to be responsible for assigning tasks to the additional units. He or she needs to determine the amount of work that must be accomplished and match the required resources to this estimate. The additional requested units can be assigned to Level II staging until there is time to blend them into the action plan. Level II staging will give the incident commander time to properly place the additional companies. If you think that you may need one additional engine, the odds are that you will need two more. The radio description sounds like this: "Engine 10 to Communications on location at 4315 Jones Street with a two-story ordinary-construction single-family dwelling, there is heavy smoke showing from the second floor. Dispatch a second alarm."

The initial actions are now transmitted by the officer. The action plan identifies the steps that are going to be taken to resolve the situation. Every incident should have an action plan. The elements of the action plan are the incident priorities, strategy, tactics and required resources. As a quick review, the three elements of the incident priorities are: life safety (the firefighters and the customers); incident stabilization (stop the incident from spreading); and property conservation (prevent further loss).

To continue the scenario, "Engine 10 to Communications on location 4315 Jones Street with a two-story ordinary-construction single-family dwelling, there is heavy smoke showing from the second floor. Dispatch a second alarm. Engine 10 will start search and rescue in the fire area."

The last element of the BIR is the assumption of command. This must include the identity and location of the incident commander. The identity of the person assuming command will be important to the later-arriving command officers to assist in the transfer-of-command process. The location will be useful in locating command for communications and meeting purposes. Here's what the finished product should sound like: "Engine 10 to Communications on location 4315 Jones Street with a two-story ordinary-construction single-family dwelling, there is heavy smoke showing on the second floor. Dispatch a second alarm. Engine 10 will start search and rescue in the fire area. Lieutenant Painter is Jones Street Command." The Communications Center would now repeat this transmission to ensure that all units responding had the opportunity to hear this vital information.

The process of the brief initial report may seem to require a lot of time and effort to implement. The truth is that you can't afford not to use this part of the system if you expect to be successful. In fact, with just a little practice the BIR will be easy to master. It is just like any other moving parts of the incident management system. Once they are understood and practiced, they become second nature and quickly gain acceptance within your organization.