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The Kitchen Table Debrief – Talk Like A Firefighter

Use Plain Text / Clear Text

I am going 10-7. When I come back 10-8, I will either 10-21 you or 10-25 with you. Should I 10-19 my previous 10-20? I heard this morning’s “horn nuisance” was due to a 10-54, not a 10-50! …What do you mean this transmission was a 10-30?!

10-7 Out of service
10-8 In service
10-19 Return to …
10-20 Location
10-21 Call … by telephone
10-25 Report in person (meet) …
10-30 Unnecessary use of radio
10-50 Accident (fatal, personal injury, property damage)
10-54 Livestock on highway

OK, I get the need for “Plain Text” radio communications. My question is, when did it ever make sense to talk in codes like this?!

Use The Accepted Terminology

NIMS/ICS has common terminology. We should adopt it. Who among us can guarantee that the next time our tones drop, it won’t turn into a large incident? What if it is a rail accident? What if it is HAZMAT? What if it turns multi-jurisdictional? What if it turns multi-state? Do you remember H1-N1? (Does swine flu ring a bell?) Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Twisters, Tornadoes, Floods, Mill fires. Any of these happen in your district?

I sit dumbfounded with comments that I hear: “we can’t use them (the NIMS/ICS terminology) because our members don’t know the NIMS (or ICS) terms.”

Or my 2 favorites:

“…it will create confusion at the worst possible time…” and “…trying to apply NIMS terminology by the book without regard to how you operate daily could have an adverse effect”

Learn the standard. NIMS terminology and ICS terminology should be the same. Terminology of “how you operate daily” should also be the same. If it isn’t, why not learn the standard? Departments that fail to adapt will not have time to learn the different terms during the small incident that grows into a big incident. Applying NIMS terminology should be the way we operate daily. We should practice it.

Here is an example of how failing to adapt will cause confusion, at the very least: This summer, at an ICS class at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD, members from one department working together had not adopted the NIMS terminology and kept referring to “Side 1” and “First floor” as geographic locations.

When the instructor advised them to use the term “division” for geographic designations, their descriptions became confusing. Since they originally used “Side 1” for the address side of the building, they changed it to “Division 1” to mean the front of the building, but to everyone else in the room, “Division 1” was the first floor. This team was at a loss to differentiate between the front of the structure from the first floor. This confusion is exactly what you want to avoid at the actual incident. Follow the standards.

Front of building: Division A. First floor: Division 1. It was easy for everyone else in the room. Adapt or die.

The Basics (If You Choose To Use Them):

The term “Sector” is no longer used. Either Division or Group, depending on how it was originally used, has replaced it.

“Division” is used for geographic areas. The front (address) side of a building is Division A or Side A, not Side 1. Then clockwise, Division B, Division C, … Division 1 is the first floor. Division 2 is the second… The roof is the Roof Division. Sub-Division 1 is the first below-grade floor or basement (some departments use “Basement Division”, if it is the only sub-division of the building).

The following terms should be adopted by all of us in our departments, so that everyone on our emergency incident is talking apples to apples.

Command Staff: Incident Command, Incident Safety Officer, Public Information Officer, and Liaison Officer.

General Staff Positions: Operations, Planning, Logistics, and Finance/Administration.

Branches are operational assignments (usually implemented as the incident grows). Fire, EMS, Law Enforcement, Rescue, HAZMAT / Special Ops are all branches.

Divisions are geographic locations. Division C is the rear of the incident (in a 4-sided structure). Division 1 is the first floor.

Groups are functional assignments. Interior Group, Ventilation Group, and Water Supply Group.

Resources are companies. A single resource is a Truck, Engine, or Rescue Squad.

• A Task Force is a combination of different resources: 2 Engines, 2 Trucks, and 1 Chief
• A Strike Team is a combination of like resources: 4 Trucks


You say potato (po-TAY-toe) and I say potato (po-TAH-toe). Winning the war is all about knowing which battles are worth fighting over and which ones we should just walk away from. Your department may choose to say ‘evacuate’ regardless of the situation. Fine. But using clear/plain text is now the NFPA standard on communication, and using common, accepted terminology just makes sense, doesn’t it?

Choosing to use our own unique way of referring to things (like “side 1” instead of “division A”) might make us feel unique, or perhaps, we think it is too difficult to learn the accepted terminology. Okay. We probably don’t have common radio frequencies anyway! See you at the next “cluster”, guaranteed! Sometimes you say: “potato” and I say: “spud”.

Communication continues to be one of the top 3 or 4 problems sited as “areas that need improvement” during post-incident debriefs. This “Kitchen Table Debrief” points at three areas to help improve communication. I hope you choose to adopt them.

Thank you for giving me your attention!

Stay Low and Keep Checking Under the Smoke! Chief Ed Raposo, (Ret.)

This series of articles takes on a very informal approach in discussing key aspects of Fire Service issues relevant to today’s firefighters and officers. Similar to a post-incident debriefing back at the firehouse, this series, titled "The Kitchen Table Debrief " will hopefully foster discussion, and comments Possibly, if we are not careful, we all may actually learn something along the way!