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Again, do you see anything listed that resembles a task-level firefighter activity? There is a difference between implementing (assigning) tactics and doing tactics; incident managers assign tactics; firefighter do the tactics. These citations describe the responsibility of a fire officer who has command-level responsibility As cool and sexy as it sounds to declare “going in with a handline for fast attack,” task-level firefighter activities interfere (and conflict) with the execution of national consensus command responsibilities.
I guarantee that these national consensus citations were not crafted as background noise to be ignored. They were crafted to provide fire departments with guidance and direction for developing rational policy for establishing fire officer performance expectations.
If you think we are splitting hairs, consider this: A few years ago, a video was circulating that showed an incident commander (the captain of first-due engine) advancing a hoseline into a confirmed building fire. Meanwhile, the officer aboard the second-due engine arrived, observed a safety concern and directed the (task-level) incident commander to withdraw. Did you catch the significance of that sequence of events? (I’ll pause while you read the arrival sequence again.)
Isn’t it supposed to work the other way around? An engine company directing the incident commander to withdraw from the hazard area is evidence that advancing a hoseline within the hazard area is not an “effective command position.” What if there had been an actual safety threat and the second-due engine had been delayed two or three minutes?
You see the same nonsense happen when task-level team leaders are designated as division or group supervisors within the Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) area! (Hey, if Engine 1 is performing a tactical-level company assignment, call them “Engine 1.” Never designate a team by what they are doing or where they are working.)
All of this nonsense has got to stop; it’s time to connect the dots of fire officer responsibility and incident commander responsibility.
Consider a wildland fire; wildland incident managers know how to use the ICS. What are the odds you will see the incident commander participating in a progressive hoselay? What are the odds that you will find a division supervisor or group supervisor digging a fire line? You will encounter engine “bosses” and firefighters participating in task-level activities. It’s called “division of labor.”
This concept conjures two of my “Command Caveats”:
1. Any designation that has a corresponding colorful ICS vest will never function at task level.
2. Any designation that has a corresponding colorful ICS vest will never be positioned within a hazard area. ICS positions that have a corresponding colorful vest include: incident commander, command staff, section chiefs, branch directors, division/group supervisors and staging area manager.
It is quite simple: as the first-due fire officer, if you’re going to change your name to “Command,” you must be located at a command position (read: command post), not advancing a hoseline, crawling around in smoke or wandering the fireground with a portable radio. Thus, another “Command Caveat”: Engine companies advance hoselines; incident commanders advance the responsibilities of command.
The reason a fire department responds to a building fire is to plan for and achieve strategically beneficial outcomes, not to provide firefighters with tactical entertainment. It is not an accident that the tone of this article sounds like an industry admonition, but somebody has to be the pebble that hits the pond. n
Next: It’s time to connect the dots and square the corners.