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Tactical mode

This section should be read in conjunction with the control measure: Select the tactical mode

Offensive mode

This is where fire and rescue service personnel are working in the hazard area and exposed to greater risk, because the incident commander has decided it is appropriate following their risk assessment. This may apply to an individual sector or to the whole incident when every sector is in offensive mode.


Offensive mode is likely to be the common mode of operation. Examples of offensive mode include:

  • A property fire where personnel enter the building for firefighting
  • Personnel dealing with an incident outside a building but still operating in the hazard area
  • Personnel dealing with a road traffic collision and working on the carriageway
  • Personnel entering an industrial site for firefighting or to isolate machinery
  • Withdrawing personnel from a hazardous area because the risk has increased

In the last example, although personnel are being withdrawn they are still in the hazard area and the tactical mode is still offensive. It would not change to defensive mode until all personnel have left the hazard area and been accounted for. Use the message ‘tactical withdrawal of responders in progress’ or ‘emergency evacuation of responders in progress’ to timestamp the decision of the incident commander’s dynamic risk assessment, including the need to change to defensive mode.

Defensive mode

This is where commanders deal with an incident from a defensive position. In defensive mode, the identified risks are unacceptable and outweigh the potential benefits. No matter how many extra control measures could be put in place at that particular time, the risks remain too great to commit personnel into the hazard area.

Defensive mode does not indicate that operational activity is not taking place. However, it does indicate that personnel are not working in the hazard area.

 Examples of defensive mode include:

  • Firefighting outside a hazard area
  • Standing by awaiting expert advice, before committing crews
  • Standing by in a safe area while other services deal with an incident, for example, a terrorist related incident

Tactical modes when sectors are in use

Examples of announcement of tactical modes

Communication with the fire control room may also be the method of recording significant findings from a risk assessment. If this is the case it should include sufficient information about why the mode is appropriate. For example:

  • ‘Crews in offensive mode: persons reported or saveable life’
  • ‘Crews in offensive mode: saveable property’
  • ‘Crews in offensive mode: environmental protection’
  • ‘Crews in defensive mode: awaiting isolation of power cables’

All incidents need a tactical mode and it should be kept current. The frequency of announcements is for each fire and rescue service to determine.

Communication examples when changing from offensive to defensive tactical mode

Communication should be timely, without detracting from risk critical operations, and include sufficient information demonstrating the need to change from offensive to defensive tactical mode, for example:

  • ‘Offensive mode: all persons accounted for, tactical withdrawal of responders in progress’… followed by;
  • ‘Defensive mode: all crews withdrawn’


  • ‘Offensive mode – emergency evacuation of responders, signs of structural collapse’ … followed by;
  • ‘Offensive mode – emergency evacuation of responders in progress, crews committed to assist in evacuation’…followed by;
  • ‘Defensive mode – all personnel accounted for, roll call complete’