The Incident Management Triangle

THE INCIDENT MANAGEMENT TRIANGLE. Most successful fire department operations require an “Incident Management Triangle” made up of three functions or operations: Coordination, Control, and Support .

A successful team depends on a clear division of responsibilities.

“Coordination,”  the first side of the Triangle, involves the management and integration of the resources needed to stabilize an incident. This is most often the responsibility of the Fire Chief or other officer, but may, in some cases, have to be done by the senior firefighter on the first unit.

“Control,” the second side, is the action required to handle the major threat to life and/or property. If fire is the major threat, Control generally involves use of water or other extinguishing agent by an engine company; if the threat is a spilled chemical, Control may be confinement, etc. Whatever the major threat, Control crews should be able to devote their undivided attention to its management.

“Support” operations form the third side of the Incident Management Triangle. These are the activities necessary to achieve two important goals:

  1. Assist “Control” Crews— Complete tasks which, make the activities of the control crews safer and more efficient (even if those tasks have no direct effect control of the primary threat(s)).
  2. Handle Secondary Threats— Complete tasks which will control a variety of secondary threats (electrical hazards, traffic, potential collapse or explosion, etc.).
  3. Protect Lives and Property— Perform activities, as necessary, to safeguard people (including firefighters) and property from all kinds of threats.

FIREGROUND SUPPORT OPERATIONS? Even for the most experienced and involved members of the fire service community, the term “fireground support operations” may not be well understood or even familiar. Simply put, it refers to all fireground functions other than incident command and fire suppression, i.e., most of the fireground functions performed by ladder, rescue, and squad companies, other than direct fire attack. It was a title coined by the Fire Safety Group (now Hook and Ladder University) in the early 1980s for their course on truck company operations, targeted at general fire protection audiences, whether they operated a truck company or not. Needless to say, the term evoked a great deal of discussion– some favorable, some highly critical. But, in the end, there was enough positive sentiment to warrant the formation of an Internatioanl Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) committee on the subject and, soon thereafter, a manual published under that title.

As noted earlier, though, historically, these were called the “truck company” functions, because they were normally performed by “Hook & Ladder” or “Truck” company crews.   They can be quickly recalled using the traditional acronym “LOVERS PLUS:”

  • Laddering & Elevated Operations
  • Overhaul
  • Ventilation
  • Entry
  • Rescue
  • Salvage (Property Conservation)
  • Power Supply
  • Lighting
  • Utility & Environmental Control
  • Special Other Operations

Why not just stick with the title/term fireground “truck company operations” (or “squad company” or “rescue company” operations)? Two reasons are offered in defense. First, support operations is intended to be an umbrella term used to spotlight the commonalities among ladder, truck, squad and rescue operations, without demeaning their unique contributions. It is similar to referring collectively to the functions of a football team’s offensive line, without downplaying the unique identities and contributions of the “center,” “offensive guard,” and “offensive tackle.” Secondly, it is valuable to reinforce the idea that emergency operations of all types will benefit from clearly defined primary and secondary (supportive) crews. Like any refinement in day-to-day functioning, awareness of this division of labor is well served by regular reference to “control” and “support” assignments. Calling these “Support” rather than “Truck Company” functions, acknowledges that departments should be prepared to perform them whether they have a ladder truck or not.

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