Firefighting, Fireground Management, Leadership

Tactical Considerations and Size-Up

At the “Tactical Considerations and Size-Up” workshop, Battalion Chief Michael L. Walker of the Oklahoma City (OK) Fire Department showed how the incident management system (IMS) works around your incident: it’s not about the incident commander trying to work the incident around the IMS.

The idea for the workshop developed as Walker observed the confusion some departments had in implementing IMS.

Walker shared footage taken at three incidents with his own helmet camera to show how IMS actually worked at his incidents. Although there is some controversy about using helmet cams, he said they can be a fantastic learning tool.

Since he does not respond to as many fires as his predecessors, Walker explained, “I have to squeeze every drop out of every experience.” With the helmet cam he can use each recorded incident for teaching and training purposes.  The videos also allow other firefighters to see the fire from the incident commander’s perspective, too. 

Such videos, however, must not be used inappropriately and posted on the Internet or used to embarrass someone, Walker said. The privacy of the citizens whose property was involved must be respected.

Although such video is considered open record material, and the news media can use it, Walker said he does not volunteer it.

In the first of three incident videos shown, “Mylar Mayhem,” Walker showed how a seemingly predictable “bread & butter” incident can change unexpectedly. A car fire in the garage of a single-story home had spread to the attic. The primary search was completed and the roof crew was performing ventilation. An interior crew was opening the ceiling to attack the attic fire from the living room. However, improperly installed plastic sheeting prevented them from getting the water on the fire. In the video, within seconds, the smoke issuing from the roof turned darker, and flames appeared. Walker ordered the roof crew off the roof and the interior crew out of the structure.

A seemingly routine incident ended up having several curve balls. The house had an unusual layout, a strong wind fed the fire through the garage opening, and the plastic sheeting was an unanticipated factor that required a change in the incident plan.

Although mistakes happen, what’s important is not that they happened, but how well you recovered from them. Using the videos, Walker showed strategic errors made that nevertheless were corrected, all the while allowing IMS to evolve with those changes. As incidents grow, IMS provides accountability. Walker demonstrated how his incident action plan was developed and changed as needed. As an old fire service adage says, “Let the needs of the scene dictate your strategy and tactics.” That is, if the first attempt doesn’t succeed, have plan B ready.

No matter what size or type of fire department we come from; whether is volunteer, career, or combination, Walker declared, “The fire doesn’t care what ‘our way’ of doing things is. We must realize that the fires we face today can be efficiently managed.”

Mike Walker is a battalion chief in the Oklahoma City (OK) Fire Department, where he has served for 20 years.