As a disastrous situation grows chain of command can easily break down and confusion can run rampant, especially when outside parties get involved. As a former firefighter, I experienced this kind of communication breakdown first hand.

On one of his first structure fire responses, I was assigned to engine 10. Engine 10 was the second fire engine to arrive on the scene. My fire officer, seeing fire coming out of the first and second-floor windows on the front of the apartment building, ordered me to grab a hose, go around the back of the house and make our attack on the fire by entering through the back door. An appropriate plan of attack on the fire from what he had seen from the front of the building. (You always try to fight the fire from the unburned and push back the fire on to the burned).

As ordered, I pulled the preconnected 1 ¾ inch hose and headed for the back door. When I got there, engine’s 2 fire officer, who was on the scene first and had a firmer grasp of what needed done, then ordered me to drop the hose and grab a ladder to get to the second floor for a primary search for victims. Also, an appropriate order based on what he is seeing from the back of the building, unaware of the fire growth and extension out the front of the building.

So, doing what I was ordered, I dropped the hose and returned to engine 10 to grab a ladder where I was promptly chewed out by my fire officer for not getting the charged hose line to the back door of the house as previously ordered. Standing there with two different orders, from two different officers, with two different plan of attack on the structure fire.

Now a wet behind the ears rookie, I had to make the decision on what order to follow and ultimately determine how this fire was going to play out. The fire officers’ lack of coordination, not seeing the big picture, and not communicating with each other, forced a rookie to make a vital decision on how to mitigate this fire. This is not the way to run a fire and definitely not a way to run a business.

All of this confusion, wasted time and getting my butt chewed out could have been avoided if there was an incident command system established early on in the incident. That is why the Incident Command System plays such a vital role.

The Incident Command System

The Incident Command System (ICS) is a command and control management tool that prioritizes tasks and establishes the chain of command for incidents or situations that fall outside of “business as usual” and outlines the procedure for handing off responsibilities as other agencies become involved and the incident grows.

Developed for use in the public sector by California wildland firefighters over 40 years ago.  Seeing the benefits of the ICS, the Department of Homeland Security mandated its use in 2004 at all incident by local, state, and federal emergency responders.  Now more than ever, the ICS has grown to an application in the private sector and businesses.

The ICS is of extreme benefit to businesses because it enhances safety, enhances response, it is flexible and able to meet the needs of any incident regardless of size and scope.

Yes, the command system was established to be applicable to any disaster or overwhelming situation. The same command system is used for something as simple as a small office fire or power outage to something even more devastating as a hurricane, forest fire or an active shooter and even planned events like an annual outage or repairs during a shutdown.

The 5 Roles

What makes the ICS applicable to all these situations is its 5-part structure:

  1. Incident Command
  2. Operations Section
  3. Planning Section
  4. Logistics Section
  5. Finance Section

Every incident begins with the Incident Commander. Who assumes the role of Incident Commander is what helps make the whole system so flexible and adaptable. The Incident Commander can be anyone, be it the supervisor on duty at the time of the incident or just the first person on the scene.

However, as the situation grows, becomes more dire or outside parties like the fire department or police become involved, the Incident Commander can then delegate or hand off authority which then creates new roles to be occupied in the lower parts of the structure. This transfer of command is essential to the effectiveness of the ICS.

Without ICS

Without education about ICS implementation, businesses run the risk of inefficient duplication between departments resulting in extra work and extra costs. Not prioritized or missing step that will delay recovery or restoration of operations. Business model systems do not have the flexibility and adaptability of ICS.

Additionally, since ICS is almost universally used at this point, being able to apply the system makes the process of working with emergency responders and other departments who also use the system easier. Because ICS is objective based, predetermined functions are understood across the board. The incident commander than develop strategy,

Scott Burkart teaches the structure and basics of the ICS to businesses and even trains using different scenarios based on risk assessments of your business. Test your emergency response plans using the ICS in tabletop or full-scale drills that include bringing in an and working hand-in-hand with representatives of local fire departments and police departments. You can have a seamless transition and ensure the compatibility of your emergency plans and the plans of the emergency responders.

For questions or inquiries, contact Scott at