Fire Studies: The Four C’s of Incident Mitigation/Management

Fire Studies: The Four C’s of Incident Mitigation/Management

James P. Smith | Firehouse

Fire Studies: The Four C’s of Incident Mitigation/Management

James P. Smith | Firehouse

James P. Smith explains the benefits that derive from building on the quartet of emergency-incident management cornerstones.

Many factors affect emergency operations. Managing the four C’s is a key ingredient and a definite requirement for success. These are command, control, communications and coordination. They are four simple words, but they can have far-reaching implications. 


Leadership goes a long way toward ensuring that actions at an emergency scene will prove to be effective. Someone must be in charge.

At an incident scene, success or failure is entrusted to the incident commander (IC). The IC must be the most visible function at every incident. The title of IC as defined by the National Incident Management System (NIMS) encompasses many responsibilities and duties, of which the primary is taking command of the overall situation while ensuring everyone’s safety.

The position of command should be established by the first-arriving company officer. As other officers arrive, those who have a higher rank than that of the first officer on scene have the option of assuming command or of allowing command to remain with the current IC.

To command an incident scene takes preparation and development on the individual’s part. It is a demanding, autocratic position. The urgent nature of the emergency scene doesn’t allow decisions to be made by committee. There can be only one person in command (the exception being if a unified command is established). That one person’s actions will ensure success or failure at an incident scene.

How an IC conducts him/herself influences the conduct of all who operate at the incident. Leaders who exhibit confidence gain the trust of their subordinates. This characteristic can be referred to as “command leadership” or “command presence.” The need for command presence is magnified at emergencies. High-stress situations demand it. Time constraints that are placed on the IC in life-or-death situations require that his/her orders be specific and forthright. When arriving at an incident, time can’t be wasted. Immediate action is required.

Command must address the immediate problems by giving the most serious matters precedence. A thorough size-up helps to determine the problems; the experience of the IC comes into play here.

Research has identified that experiences that are gained from actual responses and training become benchmarks for a fire officer to assist in decision-making. The brain reacts to events by automatically associating with these past incidents or training. Without attempting to consciously compare these events, our brain realizes the similarities and focuses on how these incidents were handled in previous situations and leads us to initial actions that need to be taken. Likewise, as events continue to unfold, we will see whether adjustments need to be made and what additional things need to be done.

If the fire officer has no experience with the specific type of emergency, the possibility of selecting the proper method to solve the problem might be faulty or impossible, which seemingly would challenge his/her ability to command.

Read more

Fire Studies: The Four C’s of Incident Mitigation/Management, James P. Smith,  Firehouse, 2020