By Michael L. Walker
The first arriving officer at a structure fire is challenged with developing and implementing the incident action plan (IAP). Though not a written plan, when the officer commits to an assignment or begins making assignments to other companies, a plan is being implemented nonetheless. Chief (Ret.) Alan Brunacini has often been quoted as saying, “The first five minutes of the incident determine the next five hours.” On one hand, it is easy to relate to this quote. There is a building on fire. If something isn’t done quickly, it will burn down. If people are trapped inside, rapid intervention is needed if there is any hope of their survival, but if the initial incident commander (IC) neglects to implement an appropriate plan for the particular situation, the best outcome cannot be achieved.
Too many times, when an officer is tasked with being the initial IC, he will say the same things, make the same assignments, and do what the department always does, regardless of the situation. Often, this works because most structure fires are relatively straightforward operations. However, when a situation doesn’t fall into the “bread and butter” category, the officer’s routine fails. These are the fires that when it’s all over, we stand around looking at each other until someone says, “Well, at least no one got hurt and the fire went out,” as if that statement provides suitable consolation.
The good news as well as the challenge is that officers can learn how to develop and implement appropriate IAPs. Although some may seem to have a rare special power that allows them to always attack a fire the best way, most of us achieve ability through diligence and ambition. We want to be good at our jobs, and we work hard to be good officers. Thankfully, the skills needed to develop effective action plans are not super powers reserved for only the super cool or blessed few. These skills can be learned and perfected.
One of the keys in doing this is to understand what the essential parts of a fireground IAP (FIAP) through the use of a presentable model. Using a model makes it possible to feature each part or at least the important parts of the plan. Each portion identified can then be practiced until the student replicates or demonstrates a better example than the model. Once students understand the model, they can begin to train to do it–in other words, it comes down to recognition and conditioning.
MICHAEL L. WALKER is a 24-year veteran of the Oklahoma City (OK) Fire Department, where he is a battalion chief assigned to Battalion 603 on the city’s southeast side. He has been a fire service instructor for more than 20 years. He has presented at FDIC for the past five years. He was a keynote speaker at FDIC 2013. He has been published in fire service publications.