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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  • Name and location of the command post (when establishing or assuming command
  • Water supply established
  • The operational mode
  • Apparatus park or base
  • Personnel report to staging (temporary at the command post or location of formal staging area; recall that rehab is co-located with staging)
  • Utilities stabilized
  • Divisions, group or branch established
  • 10-minute operational mode updates
  • Rapid intervention team or group established (recall that is also means you now have a backup team protecting egress)
  • Primary search in progress
  • Safety officer established
  • Rescue (or search and rescue) in progress
  • Rescue (or search and rescue) complete
  • Primary search "all clear"
  • Evacuation in progress/complete
  • Exposures stabilized
  • Primary phase in progress
  • Primary phase complete
  • Secondary phase in progress
  • Secondary phase complete
The Action Plan Template

On page 90, you will find my one-page Incident Action Plan Template (APT) for a square-foot (building) fireground operation. This template will work for the majority of square-foot firegrounds (building fires) that you respond to. I prefer to use a laminated APT that has Velcro affixed to the back. I simply pull the appropriate APT and attach it to the command post board at my command rig. I use a grease pencil or a blue (for contrast) permanent marker.

Shown below is an example of a primary phase action plan that is in progress:

(Bold text = standard offensive game plan.)

Circled objectives need to be initiated or assigned. A single diagonal line is placed through an objective when it is in progress. When an objective has been completed, the diagonal line is crossed making an X. At least once every 10 minutes you should glance at the Incident APT to quickly determine how your plan is progressing. If you don't know how things are progressing, obtain status reports. (A good primary phase rule of thumb is to obtain status reports every 10 minutes.)

Think of the APT as the strategic equivalent of the laminated game plan that you see NFL offensive or defensive coordinator using on the sideline during a football game. There's no question that the coordinator knows the playbook, he doesn't need to roam the sideline wrestling with the entire playbook. The laminated game plan, often ledger-size and crammed with information, is used as a quick reference so that nothing important is overlooked or falls through the cracks during the heat of battle. Same with the APT, you don't want anything important to be overlooked or fall through the cracks during your game. Besides, the stakes are much higher for you than they are for all of the NFL offensive or defensive coordinators combined.

Call to Action

That's it, the "Ten Command-ments" series is finished…or perhaps it has just begun. What you do with the information and the methodology described by this series of incident management solutions is up to you, your fire department and perhaps to your region.

My hope is that this series provided a few "nuggets" that will help you manage strategy, resources and risk. If the goal is to become an informed strategist and a master craftsman fire officer, the structured, systematic strategic framework introduced during past year is a good place to start (or at least a good source for sharpening your strategic saw).

Firefighters often represent the most value on the fireground. When you take care of strategy, you take care of your people. Once your firefighters are taken care of strategically, they will take care of "Mrs. Smith" tactically.

MARK EMERY, EFO, is a shift battalion chief with the Woodinville, WA, Fire & Life Safety District. He is a graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer program and an NFA instructor specialist. Emery received a bachelor of arts degree from California State University at Long Beach and is a partner with Fire Command Seattle LLC in King County, WA. He may be contacted at or access his website

  1. Thou shall have ONE competent incident commander.
  2. Thou shall maintain teams of at least TWO personnel.
  3. Thou shall recognize THREE situations that kill firefighters.
  4. Thou shall ensure that FOUR sides are seen and compared.
  5. Thou shall not exceed a span-of-control of FIVE.
  6. Thou shall operate within one of SIX operational modes.
  7. Thou shall perform the SEVEN-step action plan process.
  8. Thou shall make EIGHT assignments early.
  9. Thou shall address three strategic priorities with NINE tactical objectives.
  10. Thou shall evaluate the situation, mode and plan every TEN minutes.
  1. Lack of knowledge and information
  2. Problems not identified and/or factored
  3. Inappropriate operational mode
  4. No plan formulated or communicated
  5. Insufficient resources (especially people)
  6. No tactical accountability
  7. Random, undisciplined communication
  8. Nobody watching the clock
  9. Poor fire-growth management
  10. Span of control out of control
  11. Insufficient gpm for Btu
  12. Officers at task-level (especially while firefighters watch)
  13. No ongoing, periodic, situation reassessment