TEAMWORK.  The emergency services are all team “sports.” And, one thing every successful team depends on is a well-defined understanding of the functions and tasks that need to be completed, and a clear definition of who is expected to complete them.  Not everybody gets to play the “starring” role.   Generally, part of the team is focused on the “primary mission”—but, the rest of the team has other work to do.  U.S. Army General John Pershing (himself, a long-time cavalry officer) once said, “the cavalry doesn’t win battles; the cavalry performs reconnaissance, softens-up the enemy and protects the foot soldiers– so they can win battles.”

TEAMWORK IN THE FIRE SERVICE– THE INCIDENT MANAGEMENT TRIANGLE. A similar analogy can be drawn in the fire service. Most successful fire department operations require some variation of an “Incident Management Triangle” made up of three functions or operations: Coordination, Control, and Support.

Incident Management Triangle

A successful team depends on a clear division of responsibilities. At emergency incidents, personnel staffing one corner of the incident management triangle focus on the “coordination” of resources. Of course, another pool of resources must focus on “control” of the primary threat– the primary reason for which they were called, whether it be a fire, medical problem(s), hazardous materials, environmental conditions, etc. Meanwhile, though, a third pool of resources should be focused on providing “support operations.” Much like Pershing’s cavalry, they monitor and control threats to the control crew(s), enhance their safety and efficiency, and control secondary threats and priorities.

COORDINATION, the first side of the triangle involves the management and integration of the resources needed to stabilize an incident, including requests for additional resources, their assignment, coordination, and eventual return to service. This is commonly envisioned as the responsibility of a Fire Chief or other officer. In reality, of course, at some incidents, it may require the consolidated efforts of multiple personnel from multiple agencies and at others may be an added responsibility of the officer or senior firefighter on the first arriving unit.

CONTROL, the second side, is the action required to handle the major threat to life and/or property. If the primary threat is a spilled chemical, the “control” crew may be a Haz-Mat team, If a heart attack or uncontrolled bleeding is the major reason the agency has been called, a medical first responder unit or ambulance crew(s) may be serving as control crew(s). In a structural collapse, cave-in or other technical rescue situation, a rescue squad or USAR team may responsible for control of the main threat, entrapment. But, at a structure fire, if fire is the major threat, control generally involves use of water or other extinguishing agent and “engine” [or pumper] companies that are generally responsible for their control.

SUPPORT OPERATIONS form the third side of the Incident Management Triangle. These are the activities necessary to achieve three important goals:

  1. Assist Control Crews— Complete tasks which enhance the work of the control crews. This includes completion of tasks that may have no direct effect on controlling the major threat but make the activities of the Control crews, safer and more efficient.
  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 threats of all kinds.

If the major threat is fire, as is the focus of this review, the “trucks” [ladders, towers, etc.] and other special units [like rescue and squad units] are normally trained and equipped to perform tasks that fulfill the above goals, functions described as support operations.

TEAMWORK IN THE FIRE SERVICE– WE DON’T NEED (OR WANT) A TEAM OF QUARTERBACKS. Over the years, many have taken exception to harnessing America’s special units to this “Support Operations” label. Perhaps they short-sightedly see it as implying that they serve some subordinate, second-class role in the fire service. Tough luck; tell that to an offensive lineman. Admittedly, the press is not going to be chasing around a fire scene trying to find the people who threw ladders that were never used, placed lighting on the “C” side where nobody was working, removed windows that the fire would have eventually broken anyway, cut holes in the roof before there was even fire there, etc., etc.– they weren’t the “stars” going in with the hoselines. But, on the other hand, no matter how spectacular an offensive lineman’s block is in a football game, they’re not likely to make the network news, either. Yet without them, there would be no national championship. In a military battle, there would be no infantry victory without the supportive services of artillary, armor, close air support, etc.

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Whatever the major threat, it is important for control crews to enjoy the same security of the football’s offensive backfields and military infantrys. At fires, engine crews should be able to devote their undivided attention to their primary missions.  This underscores the importance of incident managers (coordinators) identifying resources responsible for assuming support operations and performing them efficiently. It can fairly be said that– at least as defined by John “Black Jack” Pershing, who later was the Commander of U.S. forces in WW-I– Trucks, Rescues, and Squads are the true cavalries of the emergency services. But, they have to be up to the job.

“TRUCK WORK”– LOVERS PLUS. So, what is the job of fireground support crews? For many years the traditional definition of hook and ladder or “truck company” responsibilities was summarized by the acronym LOVERS:

  • Laddering (and Elevated Operations)
  • Overhaul
  • Ventilation
  • Entry
  • Rescue
  • Salvage (and General Property Conservation)

In more recent times, technological developments have added to the truck company’s duties.  In preparation for its 1985 course on “Fireground Support Operations,” at the University of Missouri Fire and Rescue Training Institute’s summer fire school, the Fire Safety Group, expanded on the acronym to include PLUS:

  • Power Supply
  • Lighting
  • Utility Control (and Control of Other Environmental Hazards and Systems)
  • Special Functions

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