We’re sitting here in 2015 amidst all of the technology, articles, blogs and videos of “modern” firefighting, most of which is built off of “traditional” firefighting, and yet we struggle with some of the simplest tasks. Two very important tasks that I am particularly writing about here are the ones called listening and providing feedback and acknowledgement of what’s been said. These are two very important components of what is known as the “communications circle” and more importantly, can be very important to the play calling of the incident commander as he/she sets up the scene’s playing field. To deviate, to not listen carefully, to not be clear on what’s being said and going off on your own, can be detrimental to all involved. It’s also known as freelancing. And freelancing gets people and firefighters killed ! On the subject of instructions, some would argue the point of “requesting instructions”. To that point, if you’re a first due engine, instructions should be fairly clear. For some 1st due engine companies, establishing command, a water supply, stretching the first line and attacking the fire and/or affecting a rescue is indicated. For others, the 2nd due engine company establishes the water supply, a backup line and maybe the first due truck company takes command as they start setting up for truck work. It takes a lot of practice to become proficient and efficient here, but it can work well. Whatever the case, someone is in command and if there are not pre-set orders, calling for instructions is then indicated. It is at that point where we all need to listen and not deviate. The incident commander can be viewed as the conductor of an orchestra, directing all of the players in the band to play from his/her sheet of music, inside the CHAOS Arena. In some cases, the incident commander is viewed as the coach or quarterback of the team, calling all of the plays and developing game day strategy in less than record time. (Considering how fast the fire doubles in size and how fast conditions can worsen.) Oh yeah. Let’s not forget what lightweight construction can do to us under fire conditions. But I digress. One false move. One critical bad decision. One chance at getting it wrong, because one thought it would be right or okay to do, without consultation or communication to the I.C., is all that some incidents need to take and turn an incident sour and sorrowful. If instructions are being sent out, by the I.C. to responding companies and your company is yet a part of those instructions, don’t impede, intercede or interrupt those instructions! Just listen. Get a mental picture in your head. And when you are arriving closer to an incident and it’s your turn to get instructions, get them and listen to them! Don’t think for a minute that you know what’s going on or worse, know what’s going on in the I.C.’s head and set out on your own to do your own thing, without notifying command. Build on that initial mental picture you had while you listened to the other companies receiving their instructions. Take your instructions and come up with a plan for your crew to meet the demands of those instructions. As you arrive, put the actual picture of what you see, what you heard and what you know (aka your own size up/assessment) together with your tasks at hand and go to work. And should it be necessary to reset, realign, revise or regroup any part of the plan, make sure it goes through the command post. Remember to take instructions as directed. Stay smart. Stay trained. Stay safe.