Incident Management Solutions


Aggressive Strategy

BC Mark Emery
Why does the fire service view aggressive tactics held with high esteem rather than aggressive strategy? During a fireground operation (or for that matter any multi-company incident) strategy represents the hard stuff. Stewart Rose, a good friend and fire service colleague, once remarked: I’d rather work for a good strategist than a great tactician. Amen.
Aggressive tactics are easy compared to the competent implementation of aggressive strategy. One of the reasons that aggressive strategy is so difficult is that many fire officers are at a disadvantage; many fire officers are hobbled by trying to chase aggressive tactics with strategy. For example, when I arrive at a multi-company incident and tactics are already underway—without being supported by the front-loading of aggressive strategy—it is very difficult to ‘herd the cats.’ This often results in a fire officer chasing the tactics with strategy:
  • a thorough investigation (size-up) to identify problems,
  • determining the status of life safety,
  • developing an incident action plan,
  • determining where everybody is and what they are doing
  • implementation of the accountability system, etc.
I believe it is virtually impossible to be an informed strategist when you are chasing reactive tacticians. Attempting to chase tactics with strategy generates substantial anxiety. The pressure of attempting to catch-up will usually be manifest by the fire officer buying-into and supporting the tactical operation that is already underway.
Reality Check: Bungled tactics doesn’t kill fire fighters; the absence of strategy kills fire fighters. On the fireground fire fighters are not being killed by incompetent ladder handling, improper hose advancement, failing knots, or chainsaw mishaps. Excluding apparatus and physiologic fatalities, fire fighters die because they in the wrong place at the wrong time—often for the wrong reason.
Making sure fire fighters are doing the right thing at the right place at the right time for the right reason requires aggressive strategy.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were at least as proud of our reputation for aggressive strategy as we are of our reputation for aggressive tactics?
Mark Emery is co-developer of the Integrated Tactical Accountability System (ITAC), creator of the popular Command Competency Clinic, and is author of the 13 Fireground Indiscretions, the Ten Command-ments of Intelligent and Safe Fireground Operations, and the Fire Station Pyramid of Success. Mark developed the building construction college curriculum for the State of Washington and has delivered Building Construction and Incident Management training for numerous fire service agencies throughout North America, including Toronto, Phoenix, Anchorage, and Las Vegas. Mark is a regular contributor to Firehouse. Mark serves as the B-Shift Battalion Chief with Woodinville Fire & Life Safety District in King County, WA.
Mark can be contacted at or at (425) 753-6924.
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