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Welcome back and thank you for your commitment to the development of a proud history and tradition of aggressive strategy. (You are committed, right?) This article formalizes what has been up to now the initiation of command responsibility.
What does “initiating” mean? In the spirit that words should mean something, with boxes one, two and three the first-due fire officer had one foot in command responsibility and the other foot in team leader (company officer) responsibility. This means the first-due officer was too busy to be anchored to a command post; the officer was free to do a size-up and perhaps assist with non-hazard area firefighter tasks such as preparing the fireground for an offensive transition.
When box four is opened, the fire officer will establish a command post, anchor both feet at that command post and address the three responsibilities of command: managing strategy, resources and risks. No more wandering around the incident scene or assisting with task-level firefighter activities. In short, if you are going to call yourself “command,” you will command from a command post, not from a hoseline.
If initially you will share command responsibility with company officer/team leader responsibility, you will retain your company designator: Engine 1, Truck 1, Rescue 1, Squad 1…you get the idea. Words should mean something.
Here’s an important clarification: Should a chief officer arrive at some point during the box one through box three progression, the chief may choose to establish the command post. However, we recommend that the fire officer who completed the size-up (box two) and drafted the initial action plan (box three) retains command responsibility until the higher-ranking officer knows what is going on, including: what and where the problems are, what the plan is to solve those problems, who’s there, what they are doing and where they are working. Finally, all this information should be congruent with the declared operational mode.
The take-away message here is that whoever completes the size-up and drafts the initial action plan should implement that action plan. It makes no sense from a risk-management perspective for the first-due company officer to complete the size-up, draft the initial action plan and then have the chief arrive and establish command. That said, there is a proactive strategic transition that works well:
1. The first-due officer completes size-up and drafts initial action plan. This is per National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1021, Fire Officer I.
2. That same officer establishes the command post, perhaps at Engine 1, and begins implementing that initial action plan.
3. The chief arrives, updates the size-up, ensures tactical accountability has been achieved, assumes (transfers) command responsibility and assigns the former incident commander as a division supervisor.
4. The first-due company officer, now the division supervisor, will continue to implement the initial action plan that was developed based on the size-up performed by that same officer.
5. The chief, who is now the incident commander, will be responsible for everything else except the continued execution of the initial action plan by the first-due officer (now the division supervisor). “Everything else” includes subsequent alarms, staging, addressing problems not being solved by the division supervisor, span of control, assigning an incident safety officer (see Fire Studies on page 30), move-ups to cover fire stations, etc. The strategic evolution complies with NFPA 1021 and NFPA 1561 while ensuring that the command transition is seamless.
Are you really in command?
Here’s a question for all the Incident Command System (ICS) purists out there: If you are responsible for and communicating with Engine 1, are you functioning as the incident commander or a division/group supervisor? (Forget what your colorful vest reads or where your name is on the ICS chart; who you are talking to on the radio reveals your true ICS position.)