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Organisation at an incident

This section should be read in conjunction with the control measure: Organisation at an incident

It is the responsibility of fire and rescue services to ensure commanders are sufficiently trained, capable and knowledgeable to effectively and safely organise resources, in order to obtain the best resolution to an incident.

It is the responsibility of all personnel, who may attend or be involved with an incident, to ensure they are familiar with the requirements of the incident command system and can operate safely and effectively within it. This applies equally to those who will perform a command role and to those who will be operating under the command of others, including fire control personnel.

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.

Control measures for structuring an incident can be found at:

Roles and responsibilities

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

The incident command system is a scalable and flexible all-hazards approach to operational management and organisation. The system’s design helps a commander manage and achieve their plan. It encourages a controlled and systematic approach to resolving incidents.

It is not the incident command system which achieves this outcome. It is how the commander uses it in support of their decision-making, together with their application of sound fire and rescue service techniques. The incident command system will only be successful when applied with good command skills.

The incident command system allows the commander to use health and safety arrangements, including operational procedures, and tailor them to an incident and its objectives. This helps to achieve a balance between risk and benefit. See the firefighter safety maxim.

Commanders should be aware of becoming overburdened and having too broad a span of control. This can lead to ineffective leadership, poor decision-making and poor communications. Commanders should consider the issues of team dynamics to get the best from their team. See Operational team effectiveness.

Commanders should apply the incident command system at every incident, and it should be familiar to all personnel. At larger incidents, many fire and rescue service personnel will be operating under this nationally recognised system of work. Using common language and components prepares fire and rescue services for local, cross-border and national incidents.

The incident commander at an incident is the nominated competent and responsible person. On attendance of a more senior officer at an incident, they should assess the existing operational plan and priorities. They will need to review the current risk assessment and the incident plan. This assessment forms part of the command process and will help them to decide whether to take over command or to take on another role, for example:

  • Operational assurance
  • Active incident monitoring
  • Providing tactical advice
  • Mentoring

The most senior officer present holds organisational accountability, even when they have not taken the role of incident commander. This cannot be passed to another person.

Some factors which influence fire and rescue service policy on transferring command include:

  • Service resource levels
  • Geography of the service
  • Organisational structure

When command is handed over, there should be a structured transfer with a formal acknowledgement. This should be communicated to all personnel including fire control rooms. This is equally as important when an incident scales down, when a more junior commander may take over the remaining tasks. For the incident command system to work well, commanders and other key roles should be clearly identifiable.

It is important that command personnel:

  • Are adequately trained
  • Are familiar with policies and procedures
  • Have the necessary competencies for their role
  • Demonstrate effective command skills
  • Are confident in their ability
  • Know who they are responsible for
  • Know who they need to report to
  • Know what their operational brief is