Fireground Operations: How to Nail Your First-Due Strategic Responsibility Part 6

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...

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Fire officers do not assume command responsibility because of their rank or seniority. Rather, fire officers assume command responsibility because they know what and where the problems are and because they have a plan to solve those problems within the margins of an appropriate operational mode.

Before we get going, we need to address an issue that drives us (and many others) nuts: We must stop the nonsense of somebody called “Command” being engaged in firefighter tasks. When did it become acceptable for the incident commander to operate on a hoseline or assist with other firefighter activities? We’re not just cranky fussbudgets; we are supporting the national consensus. Here is a quick review of the national consensus:

NFPA 1021, Fire Officer I

(key citations highlighted)

4.6.1 Develop an initial action plan, given size-up information for an incident and assigned emergency response resources, so that resources are deployed to control the emergency.

4.6.2 Implement an action plan at an emergency operation, given assigned resources, type of incident, and a preliminary plan, so that resources are deployed to mitigate the situation.

Discussion: It should be obvious that the first NFPA 1021 citation (4.6.1) is talking about strategic expectations for the first-due fire officer. It would make no sense for the first on-scene fire officer to “fast attack” before a size-up has been completed and an initial action plan developed based on that size-up.

Continuing to the second NFPA 1021 citation (4.6.2), after the first on-scene fire officer has completed a size-up and developed the preliminary (initial) action plan, where should that fire officer be located in order to “implement” the action plan? Advancing a hoseline down a hallway? End of discussion.

Maybe you think it’s acceptable for an incident commander to advance a hoseline and participate in the “fast attack” mode. Fast attack is the complete antithesis of NFPA 1021, Fire Officer I. Still not convinced? Perhaps another national consensus standard will help square some rounded corners:


NFPA 1561,

(key citations highlighted)

8.1.8 At an emergency incident, the incident commander shall have the responsibility for the following:

1. Arrive on-scene before assuming command.

2. Assume and confirm command of an incident and take an effective command position.

3. Perform situation evaluation that includes risk assessment.

4. Initiate, maintain, and control incident communications.

5. Develop an overall strategy and an incident action plan and assign companies and members consistent with the standard operating procedures.

6. Initiate an accountability and inventory worksheet.

7. Develop an effective incident organization by managing resources, maintaining an effective span of control, maintaining direct supervision over the entire incident and designating supervisors in charge of specific areas or functions.

8. Review, evaluate and revise the incident action plan as required.

9. Continue, transfer and terminate command.

10. On incidents under the command authority of the fire department, provide for liaison and coordination with all other cooperating agencies. On incidents where other agencies have jurisdiction, implement a plan that designates one incident commander or provides for unified command.

Do you see assisting with task-level firefighter activities listed among the responsibilities of command? Did you notice that citations 3 and 5 align with the previous NFPA 1021, Fire Officer I citations? Advancing a hoseline makes it impossible to address the listed responsibilities of command. Still not convinced and need additional proof? Consider the following federal mandate:

National Incident Management System (NIMS) 100, Unit 4

(key citations highlighted)

The incident commander has overall responsibility for managing the incident by planning strategies, establishing objectives and implementing tactics. These are critical functions and, until delegated, are the responsibility of the incident commander.

The incident commander is “specifically responsible” for:

• Ensuring incident safety.

• Providing information to internal and external stakeholders.

• Establishing and maintaining liaison with other agencies participating in the incident.