The Science of Command and the Commander
It is interesting to discuss the “Art” of Command as opposed to the “Science” of Command. If one was to believe Command is an art, then the Incident Commander shall be an artist. Thus, he would have inherent natural talents which make him a Commander. Yet, if one accepted the belief that command is in fact a science we would understand that all commanders have the ability to become functional at the level of command.
It must be understood that artist are gifted at their given craft. No matter how hard I train, study, learn and perform I do not have the God given talents to become a singer. Although, my children haven’t figured that out and they think I’m the next Johnny Cash (At least that’s what I tell them). On the other hand, one can take an average Fire Officer and provide them with the training, study, development and opportunity to greatly increase their understanding and abilities in the Craft of Command and we can in turn have a highly functional Incident Commander. Why? Simply, Command is a science with very basic principles and underlying foundation of elements in which most all those who desire can with expanded (not limited) educational process operate at a highly functional level. Just as scientists understand the basic principles of science, so should the Incident Commander.
An Incident is an event that may cause or causes a crisis. A Crisis is an emotionally stressful event or given situation involving an abrupt and decisive change. Typically we as humans see a crisis as bad and negative. Yet, a crisis is only something that may turn out to be bad. This is dependant on a number of basic foundational elements. One thing is a given, a crisis will almost never get better without some type of intervention and even with intervention the outcome is uncertain.
So we know an incident causes a crisis. Particular to an incident is the fireground, which is a Conflict. One would ask, “Why is it a conflict?” Because a conflict is any situation in which there is an irreconcilable battle of opposing wills. The fireground is a classic illustration of conflict, where the Incident Commander is imposing his will upon that of the incident and the fireground.
When we look into the elements of crisis, we have identified through study that five (5) common characteristics of the crisis are shared. Confusion plays an important part of the overall understanding for the Incident Commander. There is always a lack of reliable information and what is available is usually incomplete, ambiguous and at times, conflicting. Although it is the primary goal of the Incident Commander to assure tthe confusion is reduced to increase the overall effectiveness of the tactical operations on the fireground. This uncertainty requires the Incident Commander to make strategic and tactical decisions based upon the probabilities of the outcome for which he is invariably missing accurate and timely information. Keep in mind, decisions will and must be made based upon missing, incomplete and contradictory information.
The Fog of Battle is a term used to describe the level of ambiguity in situational awareness experienced by the Incident Commander on the fireground. The term seeks to capture the uncertainty regarding Incident Command capability, fireground capability, and fireground intent during an operation. This fog is that condition which prohibits the Incident Commander from obtaining the needed information in a timely fashion and implement action based upon that information in relevant time to control the incident. The Incident Commander must fully understand and accept that risk is a part of the situation and the elimination of all risk is never possible. Only through capturing timely and accurate information can the Incident Commander reduce risk and factor in the uncontrollable element of chance.
Incident commanders must full capture the elements of Chance. While risk in inherent and part of the overall equation, chance cannot reasonably be foreseen and while we have little if any control in these uncontrollable factors, we must understand how chance affects our decions process. When we speak of risk management models, we must quantify the difference between risk and chance. More often than not, those attempting to element risk are in fact attempting to eliminate chance and thus, they end up in Command Paralysis. Command Paralysis is all too common and is a typical response to the Check-Box approach to tactical situation in which Friction occurs.
Friction is those overwhelming forces that resist all action. It makes the simple difficult and the difficult overwhelmingly impossible. Typically, one will find friction with Incident Commanders who lack wisdom and experience and are predisposed to the use of check-box strategic and tactical incident command. When the Incident Commander is overwhelmed by the amount of risk involved in the incident, or when chance favors the fire, these type Incident Commanders will suffer from self-induced indecision, fear based tactical approaches, and lack of clearly defining incident objectives a stated goals.
Incidents do not wait for the Incident Commander to make decision; the incident is Time Competitive and is always seeking the advantage. In fact, in the beginning stages of all fireground operations, the fireground as distinct advantage and has a time competitive advantage over the personnel responding. This is why the statement of Gen. George S. Patton rings true. Gen Patton was quoted as saying, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
Speed, violence and overwhelming resources are the key elements to re-capturing the time competitive advantage to the Incident Commanders side. It is important for the Incident Commander to fully appreciate the aspect being in a time competitive advantage.
The concept of Initiative refers to the freedom to make decisions and act upon those decisions without being urged to do so. An Incident Commander who has the initiate causes the fire to be reactive and actions of mitigation / suppression of fireground setbacks and hazards occur, thus reducing the risk profile to personnel. An implied objective and goal of every fireground operations is to gain tactical initiative.
In summary, because all incidents are always human activities and the fireground is dynamic, time competitive and dangerous, the basic and fundamental characteristics of on-command realistic training, positive experience, established high levels of maturity, wisdom and a strong doctrine of discipline will deeply affect all individual and group efforts.
Any command concept or doctrine that attempts to reduce strategy and tactics to technology, equipment, theoretical concepts and risk avoidance, neglects the impact of the human will and influence of conducting operations and is therefore inherently flawed from the get go. It is only through a strong, swift, and coordinated efforts can the force of the fire be overcome.
Enjoy the Cuppa……
Special thank to Lt. Sid Heal