PRINCIPLES OF FIRE BEHAVIOR
Emergency response and preparedness have invited all walks of people to be aware and participate in cases of emergency. Initially most respondents involved the police force and firefighters or those they authorized and appointed to participate. As a project coordinator in the building department operating in tandem with the fire department, my experience here became my main source in understanding how emergency models are used. Even more so than just contacting essential services, keeping in mind the roles of various agencies and promptly reporting to them in detail the type of emergency, determined the timely effort in which an incident was to be handled.
Following my years of experience, a reclassification occurred where the building department assumed much of the responsibilities of the fire department internally at the technical level. I admit my reclassification was effected positively as I gained further practice into viewing the criteria of emergency responses from a firefighter’s perspective. Constant plan reviewing and studying fire code related manuals which were adopted by appropriate international authorities paved the way for project coordinators to play secondary roles to the fire department when our services were needed. For the purpose of this report and to provide more simplicity, I only referenced a few agencies and organizations throughout instead of an exhaustive list, because many agencies are equivalent in service and responsibility.
It was not until I participated in seminars and live demonstrations did I then grasp the true nature and intent of emergency response and preparedness, a significant task initiated by our department’s newly appointed deputy of the chief building official, who himself has practical experience in emergency and post-disaster situations and relief missions.
For most, emergency awareness arises only when an emergency occurs in their vicinity. Everyone only hopes that disaster never strikes, and shall feel fortunate that is never the case. But unless an emergency situation arises in your neighborhood, you never learn to be prepared. In my topic here, although I stress the case of fires as the prime example, I included other dangers and disasters to be brought to the attention of emergency responses.
Keywords: emergencies, rescue, ICS
HISTORY AND THE BEGINNING
In order to understand how the ICS functions, it is also important to define its purpose besides what it is. What is then ICS? ICS means Incident Command Systems, a set of broad personnel, policies, procedures, facilities, and equipment, integrated into a common organizational structure designed to improve emergency response operations of all types and complexities. Historically many emergencies and disasters have known to strike without warning. The aftermaths were unpleasant and recovery periods were lengthy. Emergency response agencies then undoubtedly cooperated to the best of their abilities. However, impeding factors incorporating interaction between agencies obstructed cooperation.
Unfortunately most initial emergencies of their kinds resulted in larger casualties, as was the case with many past famous disasters. Tragic examples include the San Francisco earthquake and fire, the sinking of the Titanic, the Halifax explosion, the Hindenburg Disaster, and ultimately September 9/11 just to name a few (Chertoff, 2008). But one the oldest and continuous type of disaster has become widespread over the decades and even persists to endanger us today: wildfires. Wildfires became one of the first emergencies to be combated against. Fires instigated by human error or accidents such as plane crashes, arson, gas explosions, or special event accidents acted as springboards for agencies revitalize practices of emergency responses. Prevention of wildfire naturally has been inevitable because fires could initiate in deep, hidden away forests beyond civilization. As a result the ICS (Incident Command Systems) began its launch to control and reduce the dangers of wildfires and other disasters by taking an oriented approach to emergencies. This organization clearly endures a responder's purpose, duties and line-of-communications. No plan was perfect, but served as an excellent model making them more common sense friendly in cases of emergencies. The primary functions of most emergency response plans were to develop the incident specific details of key functional components:
- Logistics, and
One of the earliest developments of ICS began in the late 60’s in Arizona as a meeting involving fire marshals, where the initial plan was to follow the US Naval management system. Since wildfires were common in Arizona and especially California because of forest density or extreme dryness, a more advanced development of ICS was followed around 1970. To prevent inconsistent response services, all levels of government agencies (municipal, state, and federal) formed a collaborated system to ensure all authorization of emergency responses were acted upon for all types of emergencies besides fires, although fires were normally the result of prior incidents (oil and chemical spills, gas leaks, electrical breaks, etc.). The first instinct was to prevent incidents from happening in the first place that would otherwise cause fires.
Although emergency preparedness and procedures evolved efficiently and effectively over the years, ICS’s equivalent agencies needed sequential updates provided to their respective personnel. NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) reported that when wildfires ignited, only a few days were required for lives to be lost, structures to be damaged, and several acres of trees and forests to be burned (Badger, 2012). A car leaking fluid could even be the source of a potential fire and be the cause of fatal injuries and extensive property damage. To ensure public safety, the ICS became the on-site management system designed to act upon both emergency and non-emergency events, and be used equally well for situations of all shaped and sizes. The conclusive reasons why extensive damages were sustained were more than just the result of the nature of wildfires spurting suddenly. They were also narrowed down to lack or limited planning and communication methods as listed below:
- No general communication reports from a central source
- Unclear chain of commands
- Unfamiliarity between response agencies
- No community warden to report incidents
- Differences in safety code policies between agencies
- Improper coordination between agencies
One of the first agencies formed was FIRESCOPE (Firefighting Resources Of California Organized For Potential Emergencies) a consolidation representing all facets of local, rural, and metropolitan fire departments, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and federal fire agencies (Philips, 1970). It was to act similarly as a services review group to identify the contemporary problems of the time when multi-agent practices were not fully integrated with one another. As different agencies were notified across different locations of the same emergency, the responses and results were counterproductive, magnifying the chances of higher casualties. It was up to FIRESCOPE to delineate job responsibilities and the organizational structure to manage all sorts of emergency situations on a daily basis. FIRESCOPE provided better operational coordination requirements and guidelines and noted problems of the major fire protection agencies serving the rural areas of California. It (FIRESCOPE) heavily referred to the NFPA for enhanced fire protection since NFPA itself speculated most fire-related chance occurrences. Major fires in the wild were a common threat every year in Southern California. In addition, these densely forested regions were threatened with infrequent, but potentially disastrous emergencies precipitated by flooding, earthquake, and fire which were dismissed as urban threats because of the threat itself being seemingly distant from urban areas. However, many urban developments are substantially connected to sub-urban and rural services which caused chain reactions of disasters such as green space, power lines and underground piping.
Additional sources besides printed manuals and common terminology formed to implement the standardized plan. Careful measures had to be created to provide more for property protection and life safety. Since California already had a Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS) in place, ICS was one of the first appropriate authorities adopted. Besides becoming the national model for command structures for fire threats, ICS also modeled for crime scenes and major incidents. Sensibly, ICS evolved into an all-risk response system including non-fire emergencies. To this day, FIRESCOPE continues to oversee all tests and adoptions by all partner agencies regarding elements of ICS.
REGIONAL AND MULTI-JURISDICTIONAL DESIGNATIONS
For the layperson who observed an incident, the first instinct was to contact the local authorities. For response to multi-jurisdiction incidents, local agencies made an agreement with higher authorities to decide on who has jurisdiction to act within a given district. This agreement operated similarly to a civic authority adopting the fire codes from a county or state into their own by-laws. Printed record keeping, such as regional maps and datum plans for example, became important to mark the operational territory of each agency and who to relay the emergency to if a stretch of property is not within its jurisdiction. In the event of a fire response, the agency could instantly recall where the incident took place and whom to contact. But rather than leave the decision solely to the jurisdictional authority, the location within the parent region would be responded to by the local agency or by a trained and informed representative thereof.
An expedient method brought about a joint ICS effort by assigning staff from each agency to fully plan coordinated efforts for the entire incident area. This effort over time greatly reduced the confusion between responsible authorities who needed to respond to emergencies. The practice also became more widespread with agencies requiring different time shifts, and had to be trained and informed simultaneously. Incident command posts became strategically established where incident operations were directed. In a unified command structure, where several organizations or jurisdictions were involved, the responsible individuals designated by their respective organizations co-located at this Incident Command Post (Stumpf, 2001).
Apart from key players representing each agency, codes, standards, and legal documents had to be shared and acquired to not only separately train individuals, but also to understand how each standards of practice correlated with one another. Agencies obtained editions and publications of each accepted code, and regularly provided updates when regulations within each respective document changed. The purpose was to sequentially provide alteration to subsequent documents to keep all agencies up to date, because even just a minor alteration can significantly affect other agencies under the ICS procedure.
Perhaps with improved communications between bordering agencies of various levels, all wildfire emergencies can be eliminated in the perfect world. Unfortunately, fire risks and emergencies can only be reduced, although even fractionally. Every year, especially in the summer months, wildfires are reported to occur in dry areas where a lack of rain lasted for several days in remote areas. The most agencies can do is continue to respond consistently to at least prevent casualties and property damage, and keep the population informed of occasional precautions to prevent wildfires from happening with mandatory pamphlets and current lists of emergency numbers where they can be accessed conveniently. Hence, this became another tactic that ICS procedure implemented when it came to related emergencies by appointing delegated authorities to execute each case (Careless, 2007).
Badger, S.G. (2012). National Fire Protection Agency. Catastrophic Multiple-Death Fires For 2001.
Philips, Clinton B. (1970 - 1971). Department of Conservation. California Aflame!
Chertoff, M. (2008). Homeland Security. National Incident Management System.
Careless, J. (2007 – 2012). Canadian Firefighter And EMS Quarterly “Fire Fighting In Canada”. Incident Command System.
Stumpf, J. (2001). The Internet Journal Of Rescue and Disaster Medicine “National Association For Search And Rescue”. Incident Command System: The History And Need.