by John Robertson
On the weekend of 23rd and 24th June Roger and Robbo attended the IMS course at Logan Village RFB. It went from 0800 to about 1700 each day with theory on Saturday and a very realistic exercise on Sunday.
IMS is now a nationwide system and is used for a variety of incidents by Firies, SES and other Emergency Services. They don’t all use it quite the same but they are converging on the format used by Rural Firies in Queensland. The theory presentation and the practical exercise were both run very well by volunteer firies. It obviously entailed a great deal of preparation on their part.
IMS is used to control the action at any emergency where the size of that emergency may vary from tiny to massive and may go up or down in extent as time goes on. ‘Span of control’ is the key concept. This is that any one person can effectively deal with about 5 other people. Thus a crew leader can deal with up to 5 in his/her crew; a sector commander can deal with up to 5 vehicles or other items of plant, a divisional commander with up to 5 sectors and an operations controller with up to 5 divisions. Most fires are far simpler than this and usually the officer in charge does it all in his/her head with 2 or 3 trucks in action. The point was repeatedly made that on arrival at the fire the firefighter who becomes incident controller should at once inform Firecom. It is then up to that person and to no one else to designate any change in Incident Controller. The old idea that the most senior officer who rocks up later automatically takes command has gone out with IMS. The initial I/C may choose to hand over command but that is entirely his or her decision.
That said it is important as and when a fire escalates that the I/C starts to form a team to help control the fire fight. The four key functions are Incident Controller, Operations, Planning and Logistics. At small fires the I/C does all four functions. As and when the fire gets bigger the next addition to the team will be the Operations Controller. (In practice it it often best for the initial I/C to take that role with the incoming person becoming the new I/C.) As the fire gets bigger Planning and Logistics will complete the team. Operations controls the action in the field. Planning uses weather forecasts, maps, rate of fire spread meters and other data to provide Operations and the I/C with the best estimate of where the fire will be in, for example, 4 or 8 hours time. Logistics deals with the supply and assembly of everything that the firefighters will need – both immediately and in light of the Planning projections. Group and District are the first ports of call for supplies and equipment. The I/C draws this all together and, helped by the other three members of the Control Team, determines the strategy for figthing the fire. Operations puts this strategy into effect. In severe events this may, for example, include calling on the Police to evacuate residents from threatened buildings. The I/C has two other important roles; liaison with higher command (Kedron) and liaison with the media. It was emphasised how important it was to keep the media informed as fully and accurately as possible; on no account must they be treated as ‘hostile’ or ‘time wasters’. The four functions may each have multiple members at a big fire.
On Sunday our 12 members (including an Auxiliary officer) divided to form the four teams; Incident Control, Operations, Planning and Logistics with 3 people in each. Roger was the initial Incident Controller. A small team of assessors was in an adjoining room and in radio and phone communication. They simulated the sector commanders, trucks, aircraft, external agencies such as Police, Ambulance, QFRS HQ and several others. They did an outstanding job with some changing hats in very quick succession over the radio or phone. They had a script for the progress of the fire and the weather. The incident was set just west of Killarney, a village SE of Warwick, and was faithfully based on a severe fire there about ten years ago. The exercise started at 08:30 and ran through continously to 15:30 followed by a thorough de-brief. The assessors were very complimentary about how we had all done. We had ‘consumed’ their script about 40 minutes sooner than the average class. The sense that we were truly controlling the fight against a real fire ran though the whole class.
At the de-brief the first point made was that the Incident Team must NOT ‘fight the fire’. The team decides and communicates the strategy but must leave the tactics on the ground to the sector commanders and crew leaders. Safety of the public and firefighters alike is paramount. The four key team members of the incident team must hold regular meetings – every hour at least – to review the situation and ensure a full exchange of ideas. Handovers must always be formal and accompanied by correct briefings. In turn all briefings, upwards and downwards, must be in SMEACS format; Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration, Control & Communications and Safety.
One of the best things at such events is meeting other firefighters who you know from previous fires or courses. This was a particularly good bunch and meeting them all was a real pleasure. The final message; “you all passed” – whew!