It is important to have clearly-defined command roles and responsibilities, for single service incidents, through to multi-agency incidents.
The declaration of a major incident may instigate the requirement for additional resources from multiple agencies and hence additional strategic management which would be established both on- scene and at remote locations. For further information, see Major incidents.
Levels of command
It is the responsibility of fire and rescue services to ensure that commanders at all levels achieve and maintain appropriate command competence. For further information on levels of command, command competence and validation and revalidation refer to the Incident command: Knowledge, skills and competence.
Incident command system
For the incident command system to operate effectively, the incident commander and those in other command roles should be clearly identifiable. A system for identifying command roles visually is outlined in Incident command: Knowledge, skills and competence.
The incident command system provides a structure that ensures a competent person is responsible for command and control at operational, tactical and strategic levels. Personnel, sectors and functions should be appropriately supervised to achieve the incident plan. The system should be flexible enough to meet the demands of each type of incident.
The incident commander is the nominated competent and responsible person. They can delegate some responsibilities to others; however, they remain accountable for health and safety at an incident.
At a more challenging incident it may be appropriate for a senior officer to assume command. However, it may be more important to maintain continuity of incident command, rather than automatically hand this over on the arrival of a more senior officer. This arrangement allows a senior officer to take a variety of other roles, including providing tactical advice, mentoring and monitoring.
When making this decision, the on-coming senior officer should assess whether the existing incident commander is sufficiently capable to remain in that role, based on the type, size and complexity of the incident.
The most senior officer present always holds organisational accountability, which cannot be passed to another person.
Transfers should be kept to the minimum needed to resolve the incident or manage welfare. The transfer of command should be a formal handover process that is acknowledged and communicated. This is equally important when an incident escalates or scales down.
Everyone in the command structure should be informed of changes of incident commander, including the fire control room which can advise others. This should be appropriately recorded at the incident, as well as by the fire control room. There should be no doubt as to who is in command.
Further information may be found in Incident command: Knowledge, skills and competence: Organisation at an incident.
Interoperability and intraoperability
Multi-agency interoperability is essential for incidents of all sizes. The Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles Joint Doctrine aims to promote greater consistency across emergency services. This includes the use of key terms and common terminology, which helps to develop a common understanding of the situation. Also refer to the UK Civil Protection Lexicon.
There is no legislation that states the primacy of one agency over another. The Joint Doctrine gives further guidance on co-ordination between emergency services.
The key principles of effective joint working are:
- Joint understanding of risk
- Shared situational awareness
A number of commercial or industrial sites will have their own fire and rescue services, for example, airports or oil refineries. Fire and rescue services should develop local arrangements that define the roles and responsibilities of each agency attending an emergency, for example, transfer of command.
It is important that fire and rescue services can provide an effective response to local, cross-border and national incidents. The national frameworks support the principles of national resilience. Fire and rescue services need an understanding of resources and capabilities available to them.
Pre-planning should include developing local arrangements with neighbouring fire and rescue services and other agencies. Those arrangements may assign responsibilities or primacy to a lead agency. They might base this on the nature of the incident or other relevant factors. This may need to change to reflect the changing phases of an incident.
Cross-border and multi-agency arrangements should be periodically tested under realistic conditions. The outcomes of these exercises should be used to continuously improve future performance.
Joint training is also valuable and will assist in identifying differences in policies or procedures, which should help to avoid confusion at incidents.