Five keys to establishing and operating a successful incident command

Keep clear and visible lines of command and continuously observe, orient, decide and act to bring calm to the chaos at an emergency scene


It’s interesting to travel our industry examining the phenomenon of first due. The exertion of ownership is altruistic, if only that were the primary principle in motion. How many times have we heard, “fires burn differently in my first due?” or, "you don’t understand how we do things here?” Or any number of my first-due-isms?

One of the 20th century great equalizers in emergency service command and control operations has been implementation of the incident command system (ICS). Modern origins of ICS are generally credited to forest service firefighting operations, however, the concepts of command and control have been rooted deeply in the fire service and our country’s military operations. From the days of calling commands through the use of speaking bugles, to our most intricate trunked radio systems today, chiefs and incident commanders have provided orders through a set of coordinated principles.

Managing an incident command post is one of the arts of leadership – being able to mold the chaotic frenzy of screaming occupants and out of control situations into manageable nuggets of success and humanity. I recognize it isn’t all roses and ICPs aren’t always surrounded by success stories, but managing the chaos is our mission, regardless of the mayhem before us.

I’ve had the fortune (or misfortune) to manage hundreds of ICPs for incidents with as few as four or five people, up to multiple alarm fires with hundreds of firefighters operating. In this article, I offer five keys to command success, especially on those bread and butter fires that are every day for most of us.

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