The Kitchen Table Debrief – CHAOS and ICS
What in the world were we doing wrong? Why was it taking so long to get organized at these bigger incidents?! Control of the incident seemed to elude us until the last throes of an incident. Damn, another mixed-up cluster! WE HAVE TO CONTROL THE CHAOS!
I decided that part of the problem might be that maybe we just didn’t see a lot of fires in my district. So I decided to engage in a series of ride-alongs with the biggest and busiest Fire Department in the State of Rhode Island so that I could observe how they implemented Incident Command and learn from them. After several phone calls, I was set up to run out of one of the busier houses in the City of Providence.
After introductions, and small talk, we sat in the lounge/common area. Down time was spent running through scenarios with several Battalion Chiefs, and several department members. If things were really quiet, we would patrol the streets of the city discussing basic incident management techniques, like placement of apparatus, attack line selection, suppression techniques. I was already familiar with these topics from working in my department but it was interesting to see things from a full-time department perspective.
During my ride-along sessions I worked with Battalion Chief Joe Desmarais and Battalion Chief Messier. We responded to several calls, including some fire calls, but the biggest incident was a fully involved garage fire. Not a lot of opportunity for a fully executed ICS structure, but enough to impress me with what can be done when 30 firefighters are immediately available to mitigate a situation.
At the end of one of my Saturday-to-Sunday 14 hour shifts I was informed that Sunday morning, they would be participating in a statewide multi-department terrorist disaster drill. I was invited to attend and I jumped at the chance. I’d sleep later!
I was then assigned to Battalion Chief Daniel Crowley for the day. He was to be one of the Incident Commanders for the Southern Division and I was to assist him. We went to PFD Headquarters and there the chaos began. There were questions about strategies, questions about tactics, who would be staging where, etc. One Chief would come in with information contrary to what other Chiefs had believed to be true, etc. The chaos continued for the next hour or two until, once positioned on scene, we fell into a pattern and the chaos seemed to subside. This was a big training event. There were representative trucks from every private ambulance company in the State for the simulated mass evacuation, as well as several fire companies from surrounding areas, Urban Search And Rescue (USAR) teams, local police, state police, and even the local FBI.
I was proud and excited to be part of such a large operation. But as well executed as the operation was, there was a lot of chaos and ICS wasn’t fully established right away.