Development of Command Post To Handle Major Emergencies

Development of Command Post To Handle Major Emergencies

Taken from reports developed in conjunction with the St. Petersburg, Fla., Junior College fire administration program. Edited by William Miles, instructor in charge.

Plans for major emergencies should include setting up a command post, preferably with a well-equipped command or communications van, where (1) certain specific duties may be delegated; (2) contact may be maintained with all parts of the fireground and with fire alarm headquarters; (3) necessary relief of men can be made; (4) rescue and first aid teams can be coordinated; (5) crews can be fed; (6) liaison can be maintained with the police, water and building departments and various utilities; (7) provisions can be made for refueling apparatus; and (8) provision can be made for interviews by newspapers, radio, and television people.

In several cities, the command van has radio contact with all agencies involved. All persons on the fireground representing various agencies report at the command or control van for instructions.

Closed-circuit television can provide tactical aid at fire scenes. Strategically placed TV cameras will permit all areas of the fire perimeter to be surveyed and assessed from the command post. Assignments and decisions can then be based on the television pictures.

Command posts, large or small, rely on the use of some type of mobile unit, ranging from a chiefs car to a van-type truck. This article gives information as to what should be and what might be carried.

Two types

The fire service has a need for two types of command post vehicles: one for fires that are handled by first and second-alarm units, and one for larger fires or other emergencies to which fire departments respond.

The first type of command post vehicle can be a station wagon, brought to the first-alarm scene by the ranking officer responding. This vehicle should be equipped with all material and equipment necessary to handle situations for which it is designed (first and second-alarm assignments).

Normally in this size operation, the officer in charge and his aid will act out all the staff functions with help of the line officers.

The unit would be compact with the following equipment: (1) necessary radios and frequencies for communications; (2) overlay maps of territory and hydrants for which the officer is responsible; (3) water main maps and charts; (4) quick reference texts and charts for chemical and explosive hazards; (5) pre-fire plan records showing equipment and apparatus response and what is readily available; (6) mutual aid information, and (7) all expendable items: paper, grease pencils, pens, etc. Note that in this type operation, the line officer will also have to serve staff functions.

Major command post

The second type of command post vehicle is for third alarms or greater, or major involvements that cannot be handled by the smaller unit. This unit should be a large walk-in type van, designed to accommodate all six staff officers and the material and equipment needed to perform their functions. The sides of this vehicle could fold down, giving two work tables, and there should be the necessary chairs. The front part of the vehicle would house radio equipment for communication with all fire equipment sent to emergencies. One inside wall of the command post vehicle must house file cabinets with a complete index system of all pertinent information for staff officers. This file system may be opened from inside and outside. Along the other inside wall should be stored the necessary equipment and material of a major command post.

High-rise building emergencies present a unique problem. It is often necessary to set up an inside command post in high-rises that is capable of communications and coordination with the command post outside. There should be a high-rise command post pack on the CP vehicle. This would be a compact, lightweight carrying case limited to equipment vital to high-rise emergencies. The following is a list of some of the major items to be carried in this pack: (1) multifrequency portable radio; (2) pre-fire plans for all high-rise structures; (3) paper, pencils, pens, crayons, rulers, etc.; and (4) situation event log sheet to provide information about the men and equipment at the emergency scene.

Command post objectives

Only by establishing a command post can we achieve efficient coordination of all units and agencies involved and obtain effective and maximum utilization of available resources. In a command post situation, all efforts should be made to separate staff functions from line functions. The best method to accomplish this is through implementation of the principle called “unity of command.” The overall purpose of this effort is to maintain a flow of thought and responsibility. This should help in bringing order to what is, at best, a chaotic situation.

The command post staff should be composed of the following people, or teams of people, filling functions to take care of problems and duties as they arise: (1) water supply officer, (2) safety officer, (3) communication officer, (4) public information officer, (5) medical officer, and (6) supply officer.

There is no particular reason for having all these staff positions always filled. The scope and nature of the emergency will dictate what and who is needed. In the event of a major involvement or emergency, all of the above-listed personnel should be properly utilized. The following is a listing of these functions, duties and responsibilities:

Water supply officer

The water supply officer (WSO) should be assigned by the fire chief as a day-to-day job. He should define and, where appropriate, train chief officers and other members of the department in water supply matters. The water supply officer must prepare and keep up-to-date information on the water system based on the fire department’s determination of fire flow. He should coordinate certain plans with the water department, or water company, to better enable extensions of the distribution system.

In pre-fire planning, the WSO must remember that in times of major fires, he will be depending on others for additional supplies. The more of these people he can work with while pre-fire planning, the easier it should be to get a confused situation organized. Matters will not rely solely on one individual. With each party knowing what job he will be called upon to do, all that remains is for them to be notified. This last statement emphasizes the need for a complete list of emergency numbers which the WSO should keep on file.

In major emergencies, the WSO should keep the officer in charge informed of any water supply problems. He should also assist in maintaining adequate flows and pressures. Since it may not always be possible for any one man to respond as WSO, it is important for the assigned WSO to keep chief officers trained and informed of his duties and information files. Crosstraining will help during vacations, two different fires, and to inform all personnel of the role to be played.

Fire departments, as a rule, do not install, design, maintain or operate the water systems from which they must get their water, but a good WSO should try for authority to make recommendations on all features of a water supply system, as well as the right to approve preliminary plans for residential and commercial real estate developments. The fire department should also be consulted on all problems affecting provisions of water supplies for fire protection. Also within the scope of a WSO’s responsibility is the establishing of standards of materials and methods used in the construction of water mains and other systems. This means being familiar with and keeping a list of the published standards to be observed in pipes and fittings, valves and hydrants, aboveground steel tanks, concrete and cement works, and other such details. Weaknesses in the water supply in parts of the city should be relayed to the head of the water department.

Hydrant tests

Another duty of the WSO is the checking and testing of hydrants for flow and operating conditions. The actual testing and initial recording of information can be left to company officers, but it should be the WSO’s responsibility. He should also have private systems tested.

One item to be kept on file by the WSO is an Insurance Services Office report of the last grading. This report has a map of the water system, shows sizes of mains and has details of the source of supply, storage, pumps and other pertinent data. This report presents a careful estimate of the reliability of the water system.

The fire department WSO reports to the command post for briefing on the emergency. He should check all hookups already operating. When there is a need for greater gpm, he should be sure that the hydrant capability is fully utilized. The first thing he should make sure of is that there is ample supply hose. Then, by considering tandem hookup, take advantage of hydrant residuals. He should also work with the water department liaison officer to use an overall pressure boost and other help the latter can give.

Below is a list of some supplies and equipment a WSO may need:

  1. List of pertinent phone numbers
  2. Building surveys
  3. Main layout
  4. ISO survey map
  5. Hydraulic tables
  6. File on hydrants
  7. Briefcase with administrative materials
  8. Operational plans and SOP of water department
  9. Files on department’s equipment and capabilities

Safety officer

The safety officer will work out of the command post, keeping in direct contact with the command post at all times. His job will be the safety of all persons working in and around the emergency area. He will make recommendations on when and how to evacuate areas not then involved in the emergency. (Normally, by the time the safety officer is on the scene, evacuation of the emergency site itself will already have been initiated.)

He should be a specially trained staff officer with a thorough knowledge of chemicals, explosives and toxic gases. He will also act as a liaison for the utility companies in disarming power lines, natural gas, etc.

In the command post vehicle, there should be a quick index reference system for him of all pertinent information on the above topics, as well as a small library of texts covering chemicals, explosives and toxic gases. He should also have an extensive list of phone numbers of transport companies, shippers and receivers in his local area.

As a staff officer, he will normally make recommendations and report his findings to the chief in charge, but he will also have the authority to make decisions and take action should the situation call for it. In the event a situation like this occurs, his authority will supersede that of the line officer, so that he must be easily recognized and precise in his judgments.

Medical officer

The medical officer will be a staff officer trained to handle all medical operations. These are numerous and include, to mention a few: first aid of injured, care and organization of the rescued, transportation of the injured and dead, identification and records of injuries and fatalities, and, where large numbers of fatalities occur, arranging for a temporary morgue.

He will work in the command post primarily, but will always keep in direct contact if it becomes necessary for him to leave the command post or set up a first-aid station some distance from the CP.

Communications officer

One of the most important and nerve-wracking functions in the command post is that of the communications officer. Communications in daily life is vital, but during a dynamic fire operation, it is imperative. A breakdown of communications at emergencies may not only cost the lives of civilians involved in the emergency, but could cost the lives of fire fighters.

The person assigned the task must not only understand and be able to handle mass operations, but he must be exact in wording and choose his phrases carefully. Special training in the form of speech courses, for example, would help greatly. This man has to be able to speak quickly without losing the meaning and make his point as concisely as possible. He must also be adept at keeping records. Many of the CP supplies listed below are directly related to the communications officer. All items needed for the accurate recording of information must be available.

Public relations officer

The public relations man is too often viewed as spending his time in an office writing articles about new fire apparatus, an upcoming firemen’s ball, etc. In reality, the man assigned as PR officer of a fire department has a very important role on the emergency scene. At such situations, his job goes much further than selling the fire service.

A public relations man must painstakingly choose the wording for his news releases. A wrong phrase, sometimes a wrong word, can bring irreparable damage to a fire department in the minds of the public. The more hazardous and dangerous a situation, the more important this job becomes. By releasing information untimely, he could cause panic and possible mass hysteria. For these reasons, the person assigned to PR should have a thorough working knowledge of the fire service and be in direct contact with the command post at all times. He should keep abreast not only with the progress of the emergency, but the actions being taken by the fire department(s) so that his release will not impede their actions.

The PR man must be cool and collected. He should have special training to be effective in this field. A familiarity with the work of the news media is especially helpful since the media have special requirements. A good relation with each segment of the media should be established long before any emergency arises.

Supply officer

The supply officer’s job is usually established before any emergency occurs and depending on the size of the department, may be of such magnitude as to require a permanent staff. The supply officer, out of necessity, will work in and out of the command post, but he must keep in contact with it by radio.

The SO is responsible for supplying everything to the fire scene except water for fire fighting. He must know how and where to get whatever is needed. This encompasses much more than fire department equipment and apparatus, on which he should keep an accurate file. The SO should also know where to get bulldozers, dump trucks, helicopters, sand, gravel, lumber, gasoline and other fuels, food, specialized equipment, foam, etc.

On anything over a second alarm, he should start to set the stage for fire equipment arriving on the scene so that it will not hamper other operations. He, or a man assigned to him, should control each staging area for arriving apparatus.

Equipment needed on emergency scenes is needed immediately and time is not available to track down that one piece of special equipment in the county. This is why a supply officer has to establish a good liaison with the various persons he will have to utilize during any crises. Contact will generally have to be made at inconvenient times and the SO must know when to reach someone of authority 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The information, equipment and supplies he should have in a command post are also included.

Suggested Lists of Materials To Be Carried in a Van-Type CP

In a folder, lists with phone numbers and addresses for the following:

  1. All municipal, county and state police and sheriff’s offices in the county.
  2. All ambulance services with the number and types of vehicles and day and night manpower.
  3. All hospitals and medical centers in the county, with the specialties of the hospitals, i.e., burns, etc.
  4. Defense Civil Preparedness Agency.
  5. All the utilities in the county: gas, water, telephones, power, etc.
  6. Department of public works.
  7. Heavy equipment owners and operators.
  8. All transportation companies, i.e., taxi, bus, school system, transportation department, etc., in the county and possibly surrounding counties.

In another folder, have lists of:

  1. Staff officers and their telephone numbers (if applicable).
  2. All mutual aid fire departments with equipment and manpower for both day and night.
  3. Ail other fire departments in the county or other area.
  4. All the above departments’ stations with addresses and equipment and manpower for day and night.
  5. All signals and codes used in transmissions by the various fire departments.
  6. State forestry telephone number.
  7. Building and hazard reference sheet, for use of respective fire departments for target hazards.
  8. All county law enforcement signals.


  1. Maps of the county showing the protection areas for each department. Also on the maps, show the locations of all the fire stations, hospitals, medical centers, schools (possible sites where people can be evacuated) and, where possible, show where target hazards are located.
  2. Paper, pencils, crayons, grease pencils, clear acetate for overlay work, rulers, etc.
  3. One manual clock.
  4. Situation event log sheet to provide information about men and equipment at the emergency scene.
  5. Set of color-coded representations for equipment and apparatus at the emergency scene.


  1. Four-channel radios, enough for all the fire departments in the county.
  2. Four-channel radios, enough for all law enforcement agencies in the county.
  3. Radio monitors for utilities, public works, ambulances services, etc.
  4. One multichanneled CB radio to contact REACT, local heavy equipment apparatus, etc.
  5. One radio on the civil defense frequency.


  1. A heavy-duty generator on a trailer to be set up near the command post.
  2. Radio telephones, multichanneled.


In a brief case, have the following:

  1. One multichannel walkie-talkie.
  2. A booklet of all pre-fire planned buildings.
  3. Papers, pencils, crayons, rulers, etc.
  4. Situation event log sheet to provide information about the men and equipment at the emergency scene.


  1. Telephone communications— mobile telephone.
  2. 35-mm SLR camera with color film.
  3. 35-mm SLR camera with black and white film.
    1. 16-mm movie camera.
    2. 2 portable walkie-talkies to van.
    3. Clipboards.
  4. Paper pads, pencils, carbon paper.
  5. Directory of all news media phone numbers.
  6. Director of public officials’ phone numbers.
  7. Typewriter.

Also part of the PR man’s supplies are various forms and press releases.


  1. Phone numbers of helicopter service, lumberyard, cement companies, heavy equipment companies, air supplier, foam supplier, fuel and oil supplier, and mutual aid fire departments.
  2. General information:
    1. Total truck companies available.
    2. Total engine companies available.
    3. Approximate total manpower available.
    4. Pre-fire plans for additional responding companies.
  3. Supplies:
  1. Maps, pencils, grease pencils, clear acetate, record sheets, inventory lists.
  2. Additional air supply. You should have a ready source and know the exact time of availability.
  3. Foam. If your department doesn’t have it, or enough of it, have a cooperative plan to get the needed supply from neighboring departments.
  4. Generators.
  5. Lighting systems.
  6. Food, drinking water and coffee should be provided.
  7. Phone numbers of area fire departments for mutual aid.
  8. Available truck companies.
  9. Available engine companies.
  10. Fuel and oil supply.
  11. Approximate manpower
  12. Pre-fire plans, after second alarm, to arrange the staging area for arriving equipment.

The supply officer is responsible for all records of equipment procured for the fire scene. He must keep an accurate account of all equipment used.

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