By Roger McGary
A few months back, Janet Wilmoth wrote an article on Alan Brunacini's Blue Card training program. I take exception to some of the comments in the article. Brunacini long will be remembered for his achievements in incident command. In fact, the nation’s fire services owe him a debt of gratitude for this work. But the authors of the various FireScope documents that gave the fire service the incident command system also are owed plaudits.
There were concerns in the early 1990s over having having two systems, AKA, why can’t we all just get along? Those concerns led to the formation of the IMS Consortium, which developed model procedures for incident command and a number of special documents related to functional ICS requirements.
Then came 2001 and a directive for further standardization — the National Incident Management System (NIMS). Remember, ICS is only one component of NIMS, and HSPD5 and HSPD8 made it a legal requirement. When one reads these documents it’s easy to interpret them as referencing large fires. This is far from the truth. The beauty of ICS is its ability to build from the smallest to the largest incident due to its modular nature. As an instructor, I’ve often heard students say that they don’t use ICS on a day-to-day basis, but “we will when the big one comes along”. But during the "big one," is the fire officer reverts back to his/ or her comfort zone. In other words, if they don’t use ICS on the small one, surely they won’t do it on the big one.
ICS, as promulgated in NIMS, is a day-to-day system, contrary to comments made in the Blue Card article. From the basic structure fire, which would have, at a minimum, the IC, Safety Officer, Division 1, Division 2 and vent group to a full-blown, 1,000-acre wildland fire with the IC, command staff, section chiefs, branches, divisions, groups, strike teams and crews, ICS works. Fire departments across this nation have implemented ICS and find that it works from minor to major and in ‘all hazards’ incidents. As a standard it ensures that departments coming from another jurisdiction and that might be many states removed (also ICS trained), can easily function in the existing command structure.
With all due respect to the Brunacini, the Blue Card system is an attempt to continue the Fireground Commander in lieu of the national standard. It does not comply with NIMS ICS in terminology or organizational structure. Obviously, each fire chief must make his/her decision on what system to use. The bottom line — and I’m sure Brunacini would agree — is that we give the best possible service to the citizens we serve regardless of the command system we choose.
Fire chiefs should take advantage of the National Fire Academy courses that provide the foundation for building ICS (or improving skills), all done with simulation. Two of these courses (Command & Control of Incident Operations and C&C Decision Making in Multiple Alarm Incidents), designed for firefighter through chief, provide that training. CCIO is taught in the field and at the NFA while CCDMAI is only taught at the NFA in Emmitsburg, Md.
Roger McGary currently serves as fire chief of the Silver Spring (Md.) Fire Department, retired assistant chief in Montgomery County, Md., contract instructor in the Incident Management curriculum at the National Fire Academy and with MFRI, past president of ISFSI and FDSOA.