Got a Plan?
The importance of an incident action plan
NFPA Journal®, March/Arpil 2013
An incident action plan (IAP) is derived from an analytical approach to information gained through pre-incident planning and size-up. The result should be a straightforward, easy-to-understand plan outlining major tactical objectives. It is the blueprint for all on-scene operations. All tactics and tasks should lead to the completion of the major objectives identified in the IAP.
The primary strategic considerations are life safety, extinguishment, and property conservation. However, these three priorities are not mutually exclusive. When resources are limited, and they usually are in the beginning stages of an operation, the incident commander (IC) must first take action related to life safety, followed by extinguishment and, finally, property conservation. In most cases, extinguishment and life safety are closely related. If the fire is extinguished, rescue often takes care of itself, and the overall operation is much safer. Extinguishment is normally, but not always, the most important life safety tactic.
Most structure fires do not require formal written IAPs. However, critical aspects of an incident should be recorded to assist in the transfer of command and in documenting the incident for the written report and critique. This is usually accomplished using a tactical worksheet. At a minimum, the IC should track on-scene resources, current assignments, known hazards, and tasks completed. The inclusion of a sketch of the fire scene and an organizational chart are highly recommended.
Typically, an assistant to the IC maintains and updates the tactical worksheet. As the incident grows, a planning section chief should be appointed to update information, track progress, keep the IAP current, and develop alternative plans for the IC’s review.
The first decision the IC must make on the fireground is whether the operational strategy will be offensive or defensive. This decision is based on a risk-versus-benefit analysis, where benefits such as saving lives are weighed against the potential risk to firefighters.
NFPA 1500, Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, divides activities into four general categories based on the risk they present to firefighters:
(1) Activities that present a significant risk to firefighter safety and that should be limited to situations where there is a potential to save endangered lives.
(2) Activities that are routinely employed to protect property, which are inherently risky to firefighter safety, and require that actions be taken to reduce or avoid these risks.
(3) No risk to firefighters is acceptable when there is no possibility of saving lives or property.
(4) In situations where the risk to fire department members is excessive, activities should be limited to defensive operations.
The IC will often decide on an offensive strategy, but the planning section chief will be assigned to develop an IAP for a defensive, or “Plan B,” operational strategy. Hazards to firefighters must be constantly monitored throughout the operation.
In most cases, company level officers will make the offensive/defensive decision on arrival and deploy one or two fire companies to implement this first plan. A chief officer will normally assume command and develop a comprehensive IAP, detailing the tasks necessary to accomplish the IAP’s objectives. Companies that arrive later will be deployed to complete necessary tasks in priority order.
The development of an IAP using the sound application of risk management techniques is critical to meeting the three priorities of life safety, extinguishment, and property conservation.
For more on the Multiphase Study on Firefighter Safety and Deployment of Resources, visit firereporting.org.