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Are We Skipping a Step? 

I love tactics, just as much as the next firefighter, but as we debate tactics are we missing a critical step, strategy. The strategic step is one that cannot be passed over. When we talk tactics we need to also talk strategy. 

 The reason we need to keep strategy in the conversation is you can throw all the tactics you have in your play book, but they will not fix any issues without a plan.

 All to often people get tactics mixed up with strategy this can be very dangerous. The fact of not knowing the difference between the two, could end up with your tactics chasing strategy.  If this takes place the outcome could lead to the scene becoming chaotic.

What are the differences?


  What is strategy? According to Webster strategy is defined as: The skill of making or carrying out a plan to achieve a goal. The plan on the fire ground has to be developed quickly, as safe as possible, and has to be effective. A plan starts with what you see, feel, hear, and smell on the fire ground. The plan that is built needs to reflect to what is happening right now, and what could happen later in the incident.  Look ahead.

The fire ground plan is formed by experience, thinking, education, and research to see what works and what does not work. A majority of our strategy is built from recognition primed decision-making skills(RPD). Recognition primed decision-making is a process that is used in situational assessments to decide on and evaluate a course of action. Example:  I know this tactic worked good for this fire, but did not work so good for another.

 Recognition primed-decision, is a piece of what is needed to decide on a plan and put it into action.  We also have to rely on experience, training, and education to help us develop a well rounded plan. 

When you are in the process of developing a plan, do not forget to trust your instinct. This is often overlooked if it does not feel right more than likely it is not.

What am I doing that I should not be doing, and what am I not doing that I should be doing to influence the situation in my favor” Lt. Gen. Hal Moore 


Tactics are the art to accomplish the goal. Unless you are a master tactician the study of tactics and strategy is never ending. 

Tremendous changes in firefighter technology and research has changed the way that we deploy our tactics. For example the Thermal Imagining Camera has changed the way we do size-up, search, and fire attack.

 Tactics cannot be a one size fits all, it is impossible, the reason for this is every fire department and every fire is different. The physics of fire will remain the same, but the location of fire will not always be the same. An example of this is in large urban cities their fires could be located in upper floors, compared to small rural areas most fires could be in one story residential. Your strategy will reflect this, and that will help decide the proper tactic.

When tactics are being decided manpower is an important factor, some departments can place 50 people on the first alarm assignment, and some can only put 6.  Staffing should be part of the plan, and  also though about when deciding how to assigning tactics to companies. Example, what is their manpower and what would their capabilities be.  

Tactics have to correlate with the strategy, if not what could take place is your tactics will chase your streagty resulting in a scene that has lost control. If this happens you could end up with people choosing their own tactic and conducting tasks that does not match the plan and end up with freelancing.  

“ Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat” Sun Tzu. The art of War


Tasks are when we go to work, we take the tactics that have been chosen by analyzing the plan and now all of it must come together to execute. Assign the tactics to the company,  but do not get bogged down with the tasks. Let the company officer decide what is the best way to complete the objective. 

 The discussion of tactics is a good one to have, but did we skip a step to get there?  When we talk tactics we have to put strategy into the conversation also. A plan has to be in place to achieve the goal on the fire ground. To many times we become so embroiled with the argument of tactics that planning is thrown to the side. For a successful outcome on the fireground our strategy, tactic, and tasks must all correlate with each other if they don’t then all we can do is hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

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