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The Kitchen Table Debrief – CHAOS and ICS

The Kitchen Table Debrief – CHAOS and ICS

Ed Raposo

All the training classes I attended, and books and magazine articles I’ve read said pretty much the same thing: If you want to control your scene, you need to implement the Incident Command System (ICS).

We are now taught that a smart fire officer implements ICS as soon as possible at all incidents, big or small. Through National Fire Academy (NFA) training we are taught that the existence and establishment of the Incident Command System (ICS) was as a result of a combined effort among The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, The United States Forestry Service, and FEMA.

The ICS system was initially developed as a result of a series of wildland fires in southern California around 1970. As a result of those fires and several structure fires, many agencies saw the need for a system allowing better interaction among all agencies involved. Thus, a multi-agency task force called “Firescope” developed the ICS.

For a long time, in many local Fire Departments, implementing ICS meant the Chief (or senior officer on scene) would notify the dispatcher that “IC has been established,” and at the end of the incident, “IC has been terminated.” Other than that, it was pretty much a one-person show. The Chief called the shots on everything.

OK, this really isn’t ICS, but this is how we initially implemented it. Stop laughing; you probably did the same thing, or something very similar to it.

Eventually, we not only established IC at our incidents, but we also established operations, water supply, rehab, and staging. Some progressive Fire Companies even established RIT (why not? The concept of FAST or RIT has been around for over 20 years. It’s time to get started!) From my observations, though, we still seem to go through a period of chaos at our incidents. I was still convinced we were not doing things right and could do better.

Even after I was Fire Chief, things didn’t go right. I remember one league drill (a league drill is a town-wide drill where other jurisdictions participate as they would in a mutual-aid, multi-alarm scenario) that was meticulously planned out down to which engine would be drafting from any given water supply point. Of course, planning a large incident to that level of detail is a perfect way to create a disaster, not prevent one. As you could have predicted, none of the engines actually arrived when or where they were expected. Not only that, the ICS control structure could not be initially implemented fast enough to be effective. Where was my Operations Section Chief? Trucks are arriving, where is my Staging Area Manager? Where are all the officers who are supposed to be responding via mutual-aid? More chaos.

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