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A Chance for You to be Heard on NIMS and Local Incident Management

Full NIMS Nationally “NIMS Essentials” Locally

A few years ago I was taking photographs and overlying different fire effects that I pulled from other photographs to create simulations. Then a program came out called Photoshop an excellent program unfortunately expensive. In order to be more effective at producing simulations I purchased the $600 program. When I opened the program I found it to be extremely sophisticated. The full program had many applications that with my limited knowledge of photography and of the program I was never able to use. It would have required several courses of study to become competent, and I would have been happy to do just that if photo retouching and photos enhancement was how I earned my living. However my goal was to simply produce more realistic photographs for simulations.

Several months after I purchased the full program the company came out with a program they called Photoshop Essentials. Photoshop Essentials was designed for someone like me, someone who needed only specific basic components of the program. This program was only $100, I purchased it and I still use it today several years later. Both programs are extremely useful, both programs are extremely necessary one for the folks who earn their living involved in very sophisticated photo related activities and the other for folks like me who have very simple needs in regards to photo retouching.

Today I am absolutely convinced that NIMS is the most sophisticated and most effective system available to manage complicated large-scale events. I completely support the presidential directive which mandated the use of NIMS for use at all national and those events which we classify as type one, two or three. I want to be absolutely clear that I fully support and that I am extremely grateful to the folks who developed NIMS. Additionally I have the utmost respect for those individuals and the great care and tremendous efforts that they extend to continually refine it and make it better.

Currently we find ourselves with a dilemma; no one can dispute the effectiveness, and the necessity for NIMS or the critical importance of all command officers being not only aware of but proficient in the use of NIMS. Conversely as I travel around the country which I do weekly, I'm continually addressed by experienced and well intentioned firefighters of all ranks, who feel deeply that they do not understand how to use NIMS effectively on the fireground at the level four and five routine events which they are called on to manage a daily basis.

One solution recently proposed to the NFPA was to create a “NIMS Essentials” standard. The terminology that was suggested was to call the standard the Local Incident Management Standard or LIMS. This proposal has elicited both strong support and strong opposition. The reactions were not unexpected; I would have been surprised if I did not see reactions. I hope that we can go forward with this discussion in the fire service and address people's concerns without creating villains and heroes. There are no good or bad guys here just firefighters with differing experiences and backgrounds. By engaging in discussion and collaborating we always come out better.

Briefly here are the two views. Opponents of this local incident management standard contend that the current all hazards approach NIMS is scalable. The common analogy is that of the toolbox from which you can select the various tools you need depending on the job which you are trying to perform. The folks opposed to the new local standard point to 35 years of effective use of ICS/NIMS on the West coast with great success.

I think we need to explore what west coast ICS in this system looks like, it may very well be “NIMS Essentials”. Opponents also state that the creation of a separate standard for local events type 1 and 2’s, undermines the importance and effectiveness of the NIMS system. Opponents are concerned that a separate standard would erode the point of presidential directive number five which was to create a common framework and terminology for incident management within all of the various practitioners of public safety as a matter of national security.

Those who support the local incident management standard believe that rather than undermine it would enhance and improve the NIMS system by establishing a base or basic footprint for routine events locally. Proponents state that all terminology used in the local incident management standard would be NIMS compliant. Those who support local incident management believe that this would give the local fire chief and firefighters a standard which would have attainable and measurable goals for fire departments of any and all sizes.

They contend that the current NIMS system as it is currently being presented is a top down presentation. They, the proponents of local incident management want to do a bottom up presentation for local implementation of NIMS principles.

I emphatically support the NFPA allowing this discussion to go forward. To stop the discussion at this point would be to say that there is no legitimate issue. That is simply not true, otherwise we would not have the firefighters who are ready and willing to use the system as it currently stands, concerned that they either cannot or do not understand how to do that correctly at the local level.

This does not mean that these individuals do not want to use the NIMS system, what it means is that as it's currently presented it is not clear how this compliance is to be accomplished at routine local emergencies. Simply stating that NIMS is a toolbox, and one can select components one chooses is a gross oversimplification of the issue. And certainly not an answer to the dedicated and concerned firefighters who want to be compliant, effective and part of the solution in complex incident management. Let's develop “NIMS Essentials” like the smart folks at Photoshop did, for 95% of what we do and lets assure that we all are well-educated in NIMS the full package for major events which require using the full program.

To have you voice heard on this matter you need to send your opinion favorably or un-favorably to Codes and Standards Administration, NFPA, 1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy,

MA 02169-7471, by October 15, 2008.

In the intrest of fairness I have attached the Cal. Chiefs opposition letter which represents the opinions of many of my closest friends so please read it as well before you make up your mind. There are always many different sides to any fire service issue and they all are to be respected and honored. We should always remeber to apply dignity as the minimum standard in our discussions. If you are concerned take five minutes and simply respond in our own words. Attached are links to theNFPA site and the pdf’s of the proposal and the call for comments.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, God bless America and please be careful out there, Bobby

Download Local Incident Management New Project.pdf

Download AVB LIMS Proposal.pdf

Download CalOpsLetter_10-01-08.pdf

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Comment by Patrick Harper on October 14, 2008 at 12:51pm
I have to agree with Ed and Brandon on this.

There is a learning curve to NIMS, and the implementation as we are currently seeing it has major flaws, but I also believe that it is too early to declare the system broke. As Ed stated, the west coast has been working at this for 35 YEARS, while my department has been working at it [NIMS] for less than a decade.

One of the major problems with "buy in" on NIMS that I have found has been the presentation of the NIMS program to the firefighters. As Brandon stated, one of the issues is the habit of "one guy to take and pass the test, all the while printing off each page, and then having that test (with answers) circulate the department." I would also add the lack of a qualified instructor cadre that has experience in NIMS. In my 300-400 instructor course I was the only student who had any experience working within NIMS. How were these people going to effectively teach a subject they had little hands on knowledge in NIMS.

Let's fix the system before we make drastic changes.
Comment by Alex Simon on October 14, 2008 at 11:00am
Hi, I am just a fire academy student, I am in fire-1 right now and we just finished learning about NIMS and ICS, we took I-100, I-200, I-700, I-800 it was horribly boring, lol, and we were glad when it was over but, honestly I can't see how the FD could live without it, I think it is a wonderful system, and I think that the more you use it, the more it begins to make sense to you, It was one thing to learn it in the book and the 8 hour lectures, but when we role played in class and actually used it it was cool how everything came together. maybe if there is someone who doesn't understand it, they could role play with some of the members of their dept. like a training exercise, to get used to how things work and why.
Comment by Bill "Grits" MacGregor on October 13, 2008 at 8:04pm
Bobby,
NIMS essentials is essential. I agree that the current system is flawed by way of testing security. No one person can learn effectively if they are allowed to take only the test with answers in hand. My question to you is "What can I do to help?" I have friends that are program developers that would be glad to take on a task such as this. However, I don't beleive that the NFPA needs to write a standard for Nims. The USFA just needs to have better intergity with their trainng system.
Comment by Steve Kreis on October 13, 2008 at 7:39pm
Bobby, great editorial. Good analogy using the software example. Let me provide a couple more thoughts that you may want to incorporate into the document.

1. NIMS is the gold standard for large scale incidents. But... when you study NIMS it primarily speaks of the "system" and how to build and operate it. The information provided does not explain the "how to use it" or "why" we use only certain portions at local events. The proposal that the NFPA is looking into is a system with basically only two systematic differences than NIMS. The differences are (first) terminology, in a simplified context... sectors vs. divisions/groups. There are many other terminology differences but they are insignificant. Firefighters are all smart enough to figure out the terminology difference.

The second systematic difference is in the area of the command and general staff positions. If you don't really understand the "hows" and "whys" of NIMS a person can look at the organizational chart and be overwhelmed with all of the positions. NIMS typically does not offer explanations for when, where and why you fill the vast array of positions. For example, many times fire departments try to fill the Ops position and IC position on a small scale incident. Many times for those who don't understand how NIMS should be applied they "lose the functions of command" in the overwhelming organization chart.

The Blue Card proposal endorses a "command team" concept for managing incidents, this is clearly the quickest and most effective way to manage an incident at a local level. NFPA 1561 recognizes the concept in the appendix as an alternative manner to manage local events that would make sense in most of the United States.

The Blue Card or local system that is being proposed is developed to manage local events. It would be overwhelmed with a large scale event, but
will transition to NIMS very simply. The proposed Blue Card system is more focussed on the application of Incident Management and less focussed on the systematic components. The Blue Card folks talk about why and how you would use the sytem to help manage an incident and more importantly how to keep firefighters safe. This leads to the primary difference between NIMS and Blue Card. The Blue Card approach is to teach the functions of command and how to apply them to the Incident Management function instead of how to build a command system. Both areas are important. On a large scale event we need to build a large scale organization (NIMS) (function 6).
I suspect most of the American Fire Service is in the same boat as we were in Phoenix 30 years ago. This may be an oversimplificaton, but it probably holds true today. Now that the American Fire Service understands how to build a NIMS organization they are asking.... "what do you want us to do"? The answer for most of the locals is that we want you to study, learn and apply consistently the 8 functions of command.
1. Assume Command
2. Situation Analysis
3. Communicate
4. Deployment
5. Develop a Strategy and Incident Action Plan
6. Build the organization to match the conditions.
7. Review and Revise
8. Decommit

I would contend that NIMS does not answer the question of "what do you want us to do"?

A few other thoughts...
If NIMS is basically FIRESCOPE, how do the rest of us get to revise it if/when it needs to be revised? I asked to be a member of FIRESCOPE and was told no...

If the American Fire Service is saying that NIMS does not meet our needs then lets fix the process or fix NIMS... not have a few folks from the west coast tell us that we are messed up and need to conform to their system. I believe that President Bush made it all of ours when he signed the directive.

Right now the ICS and FIRESCOPE groups control the important committees where these decisions are being made. If the American Fire Service wants to modify NIMS they need to get involved and more importantly be allowed to get involved.

On another note, its a good thing that ICS and FIRESCOPE had their programs developed and in place after September 11th. Otherwise the NIMS might be some sort of Police Incident Management System....

Bobby, just some rambling from a person who has battled with a few of my freinds that represent the NIMS/FIRESCOPE community at NFPA 1561 meetings for the last several years on the differences of local incident command and large scale incident management.
Comment by Brandon Roark on October 13, 2008 at 4:14pm
Today I had the opportunity to sit down with Brother Kazmierzak in his office and discuss this topic. His presentation of material supporting a LIMS training program was very conviencing, and that is saying alot coming from someone who HATES change. Given my earlier statements I believe that everyone needs to check out the material Kaz mentioned earlier, and make sure to check out the "BLUE CARD" demo on bshifter.com. If this becomes a reality I believe that it will go a long way in addressing the problems that I have with NIMS.

Check it out and then let us know what you think. I am sure that Kaz can elaborate on the 'Blue Card" program.

Here is the Blue Card Demo Link: http://bshifter.com/bluecard/default.aspx
Comment by Tom Hofland on October 13, 2008 at 3:53pm
Bobby,

Thank you for bringing up this critical issue. I have been fortunate enough to operate within the ICS system at all levels (Type 1 to Type 5) and have some general observations about why we struggle with it during routine alarms.

At the local level fire departments, including my own, feel the need to use ICS at small incidents in order to “practice” it for the “Big One”. The layers of supervision and the chain of command is unwieldy, excessive and dangerous.

When my department dispatches a reported fire in a building we send 4 Engines and 2 Trucks on the First Alarm. That’s 6 single resources of different types with a leader (Battalion Chief) and common communications – A Task Force. While ICS informs us that a single supervisor is needed, we manage to institute a command structure consisting of multiple divisions/groups and even an Operations Section.

A supervisor should be able to manage 3 to 7 subordinates (companies) without to much trouble, yet we create a command system capable of handling an extended multiple shift event – It’s a house fire. We need to stop inventing reasons to add ICS positions at an incident.

While the Battalion Chiefs and Shift Commanders need to understand how to set up an ICS structure for unusual incidents the line personnel do not require more than a general understanding of where they fit into a management chart.

An incident lasting less than 12 hours and utilizing more than 2 resources is generally considered a type 4 event. The tools are in place to manage this within the current ICS/IMS system but we insist on using tools which are intended for massive wildland fires involving dozens of burning buildings.

When sent to a house fire in the city I routinely see incidents with up to 10 divisions and groups established. When in the wildland a single division may have multiple house fires of its own. A task force is just told to “take care of it”.

While I appreciate the drive for LIMS I do not feel that it is necessary. Span of control is a two way street, unless it’s a multiple alarm incident you likely do not need any divisions or groups.

Thank you again for your observations and dedication to the job.

Tom Hofland
Ladder Company 4
Seattle Fire Department
Comment by Aaron Heller on October 13, 2008 at 2:51pm
Bobby,
Thanks for the heads-up. I can see both sides of the discussion clearly. I've worked with officers who were incredibly competent in NIMS and utilized it very well and have had the unfortunate opportunity to work with some bosses and FF's who must have slept through their 200,300,& 400 classes. We're a relatively small dept.(approx 100 ff''s in the township) yet last week we had a drilling rig puncture the Intercontinental 30" pipeline running through our district. Our use of NIMS was a godsend as we were dealing with local, state, federal, and private sector agencies.
I think I would support a type of NIMS Bootcamp for the guys on the street, but it must be recognized as part of what we have all been trained in. I'm a firm believer that on-line courses are great for personnel in remote areas or to simply obtain certificates, but many miss the mark that you can get from a live instructor speaking directly to a group and being able to answer questions as they arise.
Thanks for looking out for us Brother,
Aaron
Comment by Scott Richardson on October 13, 2008 at 12:31pm
Bobby,

Whether we agree with the concept or not doesn't really matter, right now. what does matter is that you brought this up and it sparked a lot of great discussion. We have all heard some variation of the quote: "The fire service is 200 years of tradition unimpeded by change". For being a fraternity that doesn't like change, we sure discuss a lot, that is a good thing! Good leaders do not necessarily make changes, they promote discussion and let change progress forward. this is an example of just that. thanks for including me in the discussion.

Be SAFE! Scott
Comment by Nick Morgan on October 13, 2008 at 11:07am
Hey Bobby, thanks for the post and the opportunity to download and review the material in question. I think that a local adaptation of NIMS for smaller incidents could be very valuable for the day to day incidents that we face in the fire service. It also might improve our familiarity with the NIMS process which would improve our ability to implement it when large scale or major disasters occur. God bless!
Comment by Darren Sluder on October 13, 2008 at 7:39am
I agree with Brandon. It is a tough issue and we, firefighters across this great nation, must solve it effeciently and effecitvely as possible.

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