The Ten Command-ments of Intelligent & Safe Fireground Operations

Mark Emery concludes this series with Command-ment X: Thou shall evaluate the situation, mode and plan every TEN minutes.


The master craftsman incident commander relies on a structured, systematic, strategic process to manage strategy, resources and risk. This structured, systematic process will serve reliably during most square-foot fireground operations. However, because the fireground is dynamic, not static, this...


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The 10-minute clock addresses Fireground Indiscretion 8: Nobody watching the clock. While the 10-minute clock is an essential piece of the structured, systematic strategic framework, what the incident commander does with each 10-minute notification differentiates the proactive strategist from the reactive tactician. At each 10-minute notification, I recommend the following:

  1. The incident commander acknowledges each notification and affirms or changes the operational mode. Examples:

    "Main Street Command, copy 10 minutes, Main Street Command still offensive from side A on floor 2."

    "Main Street Command, copy 20 minutes, Main Street Command now defensive, repeat, Main Street Command now defensive."

    As the notifications pass — 20 minutes becomes 30 minutes, 30 minutes becomes 40 minutes, etc. — it will become harder and harder to broadcast "still offensive." If after 40 minutes they're still asking for more ventilation and additional hoselines, it could be time to punt and get the defense on the field.

  2. Incident safety officers perform a fireground safety survey. This survey dovetails with Command-ment III, Thou shall identify, factor and monitor THREE situations that kill firefighters. Any negative changes, problems or hazards are immediately communicated to the command post. Rather than add to the radio chatter, these notifications should be conducted face to face at the command post. (That is, unless the hazard is urgent and immediate action is required.)
  3. The incident commander updates the Value-Time-Size assessment. Determining value, time and size are critical elements of an intelligent and safe fireground strategy.

    • Value — Is there still value? Who has the most value? What has the most value? Where is the most value? Once you have determined your firefighters have the most value, do the right thing.
    • Time — Do you have time to protect and preserve what you have determined has value? This involves factors such as time, distance and Btu. For example, during a high-rise operation, time and distance and Btu may make it impossible to confine a fire to the floor that is now burning. That floor no longer has value…no value, no time…move your strategic focus to the floors above.
    • Size — If you determine that there is still value, and you determine that there is time to preserve and protect that value, your next strategic consideration is the size of the operation it will require. Operational size includes two key resource components: personnel and water. Do you have enough personnel to start and finish the operation? Do you have enough water to start and finish the operation? If you don't have enough personnel, water — or both — then shift your strategic focus to value that can be preserved and protected with the size of operation you can sustain from start to finish.

Another key component of size is how much time it will take to muster the resources that are necessary to preserve and protect the value you have identified. Sometimes, a city council or a board of fire commissioners will make your strategic decisions years before the fire happens.

Four Not-So-Easy Pieces

There are four key pieces to the puzzle of a competently managed square-foot fireground:

  1. Incident command
  2. Tactical accountability
  3. Action planning
  4. Communications

Together these four key pieces form the acronym ITAC. Each piece contributes no more than 25% to a competently managed incident. For example, flawless incident command system (ICS) implementation will contribute no more than 25% to a successful, competently managed square-foot fireground operation. Without achieving and maintaining tactical accountability for all personnel at all times, without quickly drafting and implementing an incident action plan, and without clear, concise, and disciplined communications, it is impossible to experience an intelligent, safe and coordinated fireground operation.

How you address each of these ITAC pieces is not as easy as the acronym; however, grabbing hold of the structured, systematic strategic framework described during the "Ten Command-ments" series is a great place to begin assembling your strategic puzzle. ITAC also provides four meaningful questions to ask each fire officer after a fireground operation: