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by the NFCC

The incident command system and the role of incident commanders

The incident command system is an all-hazards approach, providing a progressive, scalable and flexible system of operational command, control and organisation. The system is designed to help an incident commander manage and fulfil their incident plan. It encourages a controlled and systematic approach to resolving incidents.

The key components of the incident command system include:

  • Clear, defined and visible lines of command
  • Manageable spans of control
  • A communications infrastructure
  • Appropriate responsibility and authority
  • Clearly defined and understood roles and responsibilities
  • Sectorisation of the incident

It is the role of incident commanders to effectively and safely organise resources to obtain the best resolution to an incident. It is the role of all personnel, who may attend or are involved with an incident, to be familiar with the requirements of the incident command system and know how to operate safely and effectively in it. This applies equally to those who will perform a command role and those who will be operating under the command of others, including the fire control room.

Incident command and support activities start on receipt of the emergency call to the fire control room and continue to the conclusion of the incident.

Operations on the incident ground should be well-organised and controlled. The incident command system provides the incident commander with a clear framework to help them structure, organise and manage an emergency. It can be adapted to all sizes and types of incident and helps incident commanders to deploy and use resources effectively.

The incident command system will only be successful when applied with good command skills. It is not the incident command system that achieves the outcome; it is how the incident commander makes and applies sound operational decisions within it.

The incident command system allows the incident commander to use health and safety arrangements, policies or procedures, which are tailored to the characteristics of an incident and the objectives of the incident plan. This helps to achieve a balance between risk and benefit.

Incident commanders should be aware of becoming overburdened and having too broad a span of control. This can result in ineffective leadership, poor decision-making and poor communications, leading to a failure of situational awareness. Incident commanders should consider the issues of team dynamics to get the best from the resources available to them.

Fire and rescue services have a responsibility to provide their incident commanders with the necessary training, equipment and resources to effectively apply the incident command system to any incident.