Fire Engineering Training Community

Where firefighters come to talk training

Incident Command and The First Minute - What Does He Need To Know?

The process of cognitive decision making is complex and quite rapid. According to research by Dr. Gary Klein, fireground commanders will make 80% of their decisions in less than one minute [1]. These decisions happen as often as the working jobs come in. What impacts the chief officer greatly is communication. Experience plays a large role for him; knowing the area, knowing the assignment and any CISD information.

In some departments the initial chief officer may know the personnel directly, by name, but the initial reports by the unit officers are what fill in the blanks as he is responding. Some chiefs know to expect the first line to be near the seat of the fire; the trucks opening up and searching. Some are looking to see who will be the RIC or where the second tanker is coming from. Other chiefs want to know if the Charlie Group Leader has the right vest on, or if you went in before the “two-out” arrived. Either way, it all comes down to communication and the expectations we have of one another.

Unit Officers: What do you believe your chief officer expects to hear and see when he arrives on the fireground – in the first minute?

Chief Officers: What do you expect to be told upon assuming, or initializing, “command” – in the first minute?

1. “Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions” Klein, 1998
Additional Reading

“Errors in Fireground Command Decisions” Bouwsema, Fire 2007
“Findings From the Wildland Firefighters Human Factors Workshop. Improving Wildland Firefighter Performance Under Stressful, Risky Conditions: Toward better Decisions on the Fireline and More Resilient Organizations” USDA Forest Service, 1996

Photograph courtesy of Patrick Davis

Views: 1265

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Bill, I think the first thing that every good incident commander/battalion chief/district chief wants to know is "where is the fire". And that information should be obtained by the first due engine company and relayed back as soon as possible to the chief.

As a chief officer not too far removed from the role of a company officer, I am aware of the possibility of being overwhelmed at an incident.  I have tried to keep our initial communications simple and to the point.  My officers and I use the acronym "CAN" and it has served us pretty well.  This approach works for first in companies as well as ongoing operations.

Conditions - size up

Actions - what is the company(ies) doing at a tactical & strategic level 

Needs - what other actions or resources are needed to support the operation

Great conversation Bill. I hope the IC wants to compare the first officers on-scene report as this contains a host of critical incident factors and is critical to a risk assessment. He/She would then look if what they see has gotten better or worst then what they expected. The IC would then need to reassess the risk and confirm that everyone is operating in the right strategy.

As for the officers information to the IC. I agree with Scott, the CAN report would be a great example. I like to explain it this way; the fireground communications from company officers should be based on tactical benchmarks such as, fire located, water on the fire, primary search underway, roof opened etc. As well any time a company can not complete an assignment, that would be critical. Last but not least any safety issues the company encounters. 

Communications from the company to the IC is the control piece in command and control. Without it, the IC will never know if his tactical assignments are effective.

Thanks Bill for the great discussion

Reply to Discussion


Policy Page


The login above DOES NOT provide access to Fire Engineering magazine archives. Please go here for our archives.


Our contributors' posts are not vetted by the Fire Engineering technical board, and reflect the views and opinions of the individual authors. Anyone is welcome to participate.

For vetted content, please go to

We are excited to have you participate in our discussions and interactive forums. Before you begin posting, please take a moment to read our community policy page.  

Be Alert for Spam
We actively monitor the community for spam, however some does slip through. Please use common sense and caution when clicking links. If you suspect you've been hit by spam, e-mail

FE Podcasts

Check out the most recent episode and schedule of

© 2024   Created by fireeng.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service