The Trouble with Command

“Nothing beats a well-trained crew, lead by an officer who is well versed in strategy and tactics.”

The Incident Command System is the standard for todays fire service. At this point, just about every fire department, both career and volunteer, should be well versed in the concept of Incident Command. This amazing system of organizing chaos has proven its worth for all sizes of incidents; from the standard house fire to major wildland fires.

As an Incident Commander, I utilize the Incident Command System on a near daily basis. Without it, my scenes would be chaotic, stressful, and nearly impossible to control. I simply do not know how Chief’s did it before the Incident Command System became the standard.

My department began using the Incident Command System in the mid-1990’s. The first few years were a period of adjustment and growing pains…we all know how well firefighters deal with change. As time went on, we became more and more fluent in the art of Incident Command.  And today, we do it well.

However, while the benefits of the Incident Command System are many, I have noticed a negative trend over the past few years. Our firefighters and officers seem to rely more and more on the Incident Commander to provide direction. You may be asking yourself, isn’t that the IC’s job? The answer is, yes. However, an Incident Commander is only as good as the information they receive. If officers are not communicating conditions and needs, then the IC cannot be effective. You may now be asking, why are officers not communicating? Here are my thoughts…

Most officers and firefighters who were around before the advent of the Incident Command System have retired. As such, the majority of todays officers and firefighters have grown up with the Incident Command System; they know no other way. They are, in a lot of ways, used to be told what to do. After all, if you do something onscene without the direction of the IC, you are free-lancing.

“Free-lancing”, the cardinal sin of the fireground. No one in my department wants to be caught doing it, so they wait for orders. It’s akin to over parenting. We have placed such high regard on fireground discipline, that we have failed to empower our officers and firefighters to make decisions on their own. So what’s the answer?

It is important for the IC to be proficient at running scenes. However, what matters most to the successful outcome of an incident, is the skills of the crews onscene. Nothing beats a well-trained crew, lead by an officer who is well versed in strategy and tactics.

Incident Commanders need well-trained officers. They need them to recognize what has to happen and communicate that need to the IC. The Incident Commander can’t see it all. In fact, sometimes, we barely see anything. We must empower our young officers to communicate what they are seeing and then do something about it. As long as the actions are communicated to the IC, then it is not free-lancing. We must reinforce the need for communication from our officers. They are painting the picture for the IC. The more they paint, the better the IC can run the scene.

Has your department experienced similar issues with the Incident Command System? What are your thoughts?

*lead photo credit:


About the Author

Posted by



Add a Response

Your name, email address, and comment are required. We will not publish your email.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

The following HTML tags can be used in the comment field: <a href="" title="" rel=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

%d bloggers like this: