Command roles and responsibilities

Control Measure Knowledge

It is important to have clearly-defined command roles and responsibilities for all incidents and situations in fire control.

Declaration of a major incident may prompt a requirement for additional resources from multiple agencies. There will also be a need for additional strategic management at an incident ground and at remote locations. This may affect the roles and responsibilities in fire control. Following declaration of a major incident the fire control commander may be required to participate in briefings or conference calls to share situational awareness between emergency service control room supervisors. In such circumstances the fire control commander should consider delegating supervision of the fire control function’s activity to another supervisory manager or suitably trained and experienced member of their team.

Levels of command                                                                                

Fire and rescue services are responsible for ensuring that fire control personnel achieve and maintain command competence appropriate to their role.

Incident command system

The incident command system provides a structure that ensures a competent person is responsible for command and control at operational, tactical and strategic levels. Fire control personnel should be appropriately supervised to maintain the safety and effectiveness of the fire control function.

The fire control commander is the person nominated to take charge of the fire control function and is usually the person on duty holding the highest rank. They may delegate authority for some of the activities of the fire control function, including responsibility for tasks. However, the fire control commander remains the nominated competent and responsible person with responsibility for mobilising resources and ensuring the health and safety of fire control personnel.

Due to the geographical area covered by fire controls, and on occasions due to travel restrictions because of severe weather, a fire control commander may conduct operations remotely. On such occasions it is essential that clear lines of reporting and communication are in place between the fire control commander and fire control personnel.

During more complex incidents or situations, the fire control commander may call upon a more senior person for support and advice. This may be a fire control manager or an operational officer. Where this happens the more senior person should assess the situation before deciding to assume command of fire control. It may be more important to maintain continuity of fire control command than transfer it automatically when a more senior officer arrives. This will allow the more senior officer to perform a variety of other roles, including providing tactical advice, mentoring and monitoring. The in-coming senior officer should decide whether the existing fire control commander is sufficiently capable to remain in that role based on the type, size and complexity of the incident or situation.

Transfers of command in fire control should be kept to a minimum to resolve an incident or situation and to manage welfare. Transfer of command should be a formal handover process that is acknowledged and communicated. This is equally important whether an incident or situation escalates or de-escalates.

All fire control personnel should be informed of a change in fire control commander. This should be recorded in the incident or decision log as appropriate, and the incident commander informed. This will support effective lines of communication between fire control and incident commanders and remove any doubt as to who is in command.

Interoperability and intraoperability

Multi-agency interoperability is essential for incidents of all sizes. The JESIP Joint Doctrine aims to promote greater consistency across emergency services, including key terms and common terminology that help to develop a common understanding of the situation. Also refer to the UK Civil Protection Lexicon.

Emergency control rooms play a vital role in managing a multi-agency incident. The JESIP Joint Doctrine provides specific control room guidance in the interoperability framework and builds consistency into the procedures and working practices of emergency service control rooms. The JESIP Control Room Supporting Principles for joint working are divided into three sections:

  • Communications
  • Shared situational awareness and joint understanding of risk
  • Co-ordination and co-location

Emergency control rooms generally operate from separate fixed locations and therefore cannot feasibly co-locate. However, they can help in co-locating emergency responders and commanders by jointly agreeing initial multi-agency rendezvous points.

There is no legislation that establishes primacy of one agency over another. The Joint Doctrine gives further guidance on co-ordination between emergency services.

The key principles of effective joint working are:

  • Co-location
  • Communication
  • Co-ordination
  • Joint understanding of risk
  • Shared situational awareness

It is important that fire and rescue services can provide an effective response to local, cross-border and national incidents. The national frameworks support the principles of National Resilience. Fire and rescue services need an understanding of resources and capabilities available to them.

Pre-planning should include developing local arrangements with neighbouring fire and rescue services and other agencies. Those arrangements may assign responsibilities or primacy to a lead agency. They might base this on the location or nature of the incident or other relevant factors. This may need to change to reflect the changing phases of an incident. To ensure effective communication and flow of information between agencies, it is essential that the fire control commander is made aware of any such arrangements and that they are communicated to fire control personnel. Pre-planning should also include the development of arrangements for emergency call taking and the sharing of situational awareness with other fire control rooms, neighbouring fire and rescue services and other agencies.

Cross-border and multi-agency arrangements should be tested periodically under realistic conditions. Such tests must include fire control and consider all aspects of the fire control function in processing and managing incidents of this type. The outcomes of these exercises should be used to continuously improve future performance.

Fire and rescue services should ensure that policies, procedures and training for fire control personnel consider the Control Room Supporting Principles of the JESIP Joint Doctrine. They should identify joint training opportunities with other emergency service controls and emergency responders and ensure that such training events provide fire control personnel with opportunities for full, realistic participation.

Joint training is valuable in helping fire control personnel to practice:

  • The setting up and use of methods of communication such as talk groups and conference calls
  • The completion of action plans and associated tasks
  • Analysis and assessment of information that is received and shared
  • The formulation of messages and use of the M/ETHANE structure to share situational awareness

Such learning opportunities will help to avoid confusion during incidents and to develop teamwork and interpersonal communication.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions