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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  1. Was incident command competent?
  2. Was everybody tactically accounted for at all times (who-what-where-when-why)?
  3. Was there an action plan (and do you know what piece of the plan you were responsible for)?
  4. Was communications clear, concise and disciplined?

Although "yes" or "no" qualify as an answer to each question, probe deeper for evidence why some officers answered yes and others no. If you were the incident commander and received a thumbs-up from each fire officer for each question, what else could you ask for? The goal is to consistently receive consensus thumbs-up for each question. Should there be a thumbs-down, find out why and fix the problem.

Command Post Benchmarks

Often, status reports will be tied to the 10-minute clock. Division and group supervisors can anticipate being asked for a status report every 10 minutes, particularly during the primary phase of the operation (before the fireground has been stabilized). As offered in Command-ment II, Team Leaders "CARE" for their team members by continually monitoring Conditions, Air, Radio and Egress. This, of course, requires the team leader to keep the team together and for the team leader to stay with the team. When asked for a status report, team leaders report Progress, Air, Conditions and Team ("PACT"). Also recall that a team leader can be asked for PACT portions such as a progress report, a conditions report, or any combination of PACT. A typical PACT status report would sound something like this:

"Floor 2 in progress, 50 plus, smoke increasing, Engine 33 with three."

Notice that because Engine 33 is tactically accounted for (who-what-where), the team leader did not need to report what is "in progress"; whoever has Engine 33's passport knows what the company is doing and where members are operating. The PACT report confirms where the team is located, how much air (generally speaking) the team has, what the conditions are, and if the team is together ("with three" conveys the team leaders plus two team members). This concise, clear and meaningful status report can be used by a division or group supervisor to determine if the plan is working, if an exchange team will soon be needed, if inside conditions match conditions viewed from the supervisor's perspective, and if the team is in the CARE of the team leader.

When asked for a status report, division and group supervisors report Conditions, Progress and Resources (CPR — not to be confused with compressing a deceased person's chest): conditions from the supervisor's perspective, progress of the supervisor's piece of the primary or secondary phase action plan, and resources (teams assigned to the supervisor). A CPR status report would sound something like this:

"Conditions improving, primary phase in progress, Division A with five."

"Primary phase in progress" conveys that all objectives assigned to Division A are still in progress. "Division A with five" conveys that the division supervisor has accounted for five teams. (Recall that division and group supervisors are responsible for tactical accountability of assigned teams, team leaders are responsible for personnel accountability of team members.)

The incident commander must also provide status reports. I refer to command post status reports as strategic benchmarks. It is imperative that these strategic benchmarks are recorded on tape. Thus it is imperative that command post benchmarks are conveyed through a dispatcher. For example: "Dispatch from Main Street Command, primary search all clear." If the dispatcher repeats (clarifies from the 4-C communication model) the benchmark, then you are assured it has been recorded and time-stamped. There are three reasons why you want to have command post strategic benchmarks recorded:

  1. Legal — If there is any question about if or when an action or event took place, the time-stamped recording will provide evidence.
  2. Training — Recorded, time-stamped benchmarks provide valuable time-line information for conducting an after-action/post-incident review session.
  3. Redundancy — If anybody missed your benchmark announcement, they'll likely hear the dispatcher's clarification.

Command Post strategic benchmarks include: