Train on the Basics To Reduce Fire Scene Chaos

Part I: Scene Management

Roger Lunt teaching

By Roger Lunt

“Our training program needs to return attention to the basics.” If a fire department training staff considers this, they are to be commended for identifying a crucial element in the goal of avoiding fire scene chaos. However, the department must be careful not to fall victim of too-narrow thinking when approaching the basic training schedule.

Defining the basic training schedule should generate an extensive list of classroom, training ground, and curbside topics and activities. Achieving the training terminal objective of removing response scene chaos requires a schedule that encompasses and surpasses traditional basic training topics such as hose, fire behavior, ventilation, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), etc.

I respect the manner in which the state of Illinois has approached basic training. The Illinois Office of the State Fire Marshal has provided a minimum firefighter training guide for the Illinois fire service. The guide was developed to assist fire department officers in determining areas of training personnel that correlate to the duties performed. The guide outlines specific basic training competencies that should be met prior to personnel being allowed to engage in certain activities during a department structure fire response:

1) Station support operations: Activities at the fire station relevant to a structure fire that may be


2) Exterior/support operations: Activities relevant to a structure fire between the station and on the fire scene but not on or in the burning structure.

3) High-risk operations: Activities relevant to a structure fire between the station and on the fire scene but not on or in the burning structure.

4) Firefighter basic certification: As outlined by the Illinois Office of the State Fire Marshal.

What I like best with the guide is that it applies local, state, and national performance standards to the education and training objectives of a firefighter specific to the job skill required and relative to his or her environment. It also serves as an efficient career path to becoming a certified firefighter in the state of Illinois.  

My linear thought process prioritizes and breaks the basic training requirements for the rural and small career fire departments into two major areas: (1) scene management and (2) basic tactical skills and knowledge. These undoubtedly apply to all responses, but with this writing I will specifically reference the structure fire scene.


 I place this as the first basic training priority topic simply because if the response does not have trained firefighters, the response activities must still be tracked with all personnel accounted for. We are able to track, support, and watch for the health and safety of our fire scene firefighters only by adhering to the very basics: proper communication, adherence to established response priorities, and the incident commander (IC) directing work that is assigned to groups and divisions. Your basic training schedule should include SCBA donning and doffing, hose loads, etc. But these training topics are not managerial skills. You may very well have tactical- and task-trained firefighters, but it will be an unnecessary response challenge if they have not received basic fireground management training. It is sort of like having the best basketball players on the court but they are not combining their skills to be the best team on the court. Your training should focus on a cohesive local single- or multi-jurisdictional fire scene response.

Vests, clip boards, hook-and-loop name tags, names on coats or even colored helmets may be useful accountability aids. These aids alone will not organize your response. In fact, some of them may offer a greater draw of your attention than the support that they offer. They are support tools to be used as needed in an accountability system within a response management system. These can be a part of the basic training over your response management system, but it must be clear that they are only management aids. A department must not confuse the purchase and use of these aids as having a management and tracking system of on-scene personnel.

Students attend training on avoiding fire scene chaos.

Consider that if you are not able to manage 15 to 30 personnel on your scene, training on the topic would be very valuable. In fact, it is more crucial than a fancier clip board or a name tag. The pump operator should not need instructions posted on the pump panel, and the IC should not need a cheat sheet to organize and track personnel on a three-bedroom ranch structure fire.

The following are a few questions to apply to your fire department. The goal is to assess the collective representation of your responses. Your department should be involved with nearly every point identified. After reviewing your responses, how do you assess the departmental basic scene management training focus to keep members safe and effective on the next structure fire?

 When on a structure fire:

  1. Our IC  always knows where the troops are.
  2. Our department uses an accountability board.
  3. Our IC always knows what the troops are doing.
  4. Our members have ID tags hanging from the back of their helmets.
  5. Our IC always knows the environmental challenge for every assigned group.
  6. Our IC will always use the tactical work sheet developed by the department.
  7. Our IC is able to anticipate and develop support for all scene challenges.
  8. Our department safety officer and the IC wear position/job-designated vests.
  9. The group leader of the attack line is always positioned, when advancing the line, directly behind the nozzle man.
  10. Our training program will shine. We have developed firefighters and officers to safely execute fire scene skills: Rescue, exposure protection, fire confinement, fire extinguishment, overhaul, ventilation, salvage, water supply, pump operations, rapid intervention, and staging.
  11. We have a Level 1 Staging area staffed with a staging officer who has received special training for the duty.
  12. Our members work smoothly within an organizational structure.
  13. Prior to a structure fire response…More than 50 percent of our response personnel have had NIMS training.
  14. None of our members have seen our fire department’s fireground management standard operation guideline [SOG].
  15. More than 50 percent of our response personnel have had fireground management training that fully focused on the organizing, tracking, and supporting of our local resources.
  16. We expect chaos.

My experience based judgment is that if you have not answered affirmatively to 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, and 15, there is a very real possibility that you, your administration, and or your fire department may be encouraging, excusing, enabling and even nourishing the existence of chaos on your response scenes.

If training focuses predominantly on how we maintain organization, we can do well in keeping unskilled personnel out of harm’s way. The department will likely have made giant strides in the avoidance of scene chaos. However, the organizational structure will always be seriously challenged if the troops do not have the skills required to perform the job at hand.

In Part II we look at basic tactical skills and knowledge.

Roger LuntRoger Lunt is a retired fire chief who spent 38 years in the fire service. He is the retired deputy director of the Illinois Fire Service Institute and is a field instructor with that organization. He has a bachelors degree in law enforcement administration and an associate degree in fire science technology. He is a founding member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. As a member of FEMA Region V Disaster Mortuary Response Team [DMORT], he deployed to New York within 24 hours of the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers, and deployed as a member of the United States Health and Human Services DMORT Weapons of Mass Destruction Team to the after math of Hurricane Katrina. He is the author of the self-published book, “Avoiding Fire Department Induced Chaos.” He can be contacted at


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