The process of cognitive decision making is complex and quite rapid. According to research by Dr. Gary Klein, fireground commanders will make 80% of their decisions in less than one minute [1]. These decisions happen as often as the working jobs come in. What impacts the chief officer greatly is communication. Experience plays a large role for him; knowing the area, knowing the assignment and any CISD information.

In some departments the initial chief officer may know the personnel directly, by name, but the initial reports by the unit officers are what fill in the blanks as he is responding. Some chiefs know to expect the first line to be near the seat of the fire; the trucks opening up and searching. Some are looking to see who will be the RIC or where the second tanker is coming from. Other chiefs want to know if the Charlie Group Leader has the right vest on, or if you went in before the “two-out” arrived. Either way, it all comes down to communication and the expectations we have of one another.


Unit Officers: What do you believe your chief officer expects to hear and see when he arrives on the fireground – in the first minute?


Chief Officers: What do you expect to be told upon assuming, or initializing, “command” – in the first minute?


1. “Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions” Klein, 1998
Additional Reading

"Effective Communication Leads to Action" FirefighterNation, Schmidt 2010
“Findings From the Wildland Firefighters Human Factors Workshop. Improving Wildland Firefighter Performance Under Stressful, Risky Conditions: Toward better Decisions on the Fireline and More Resilient Organizations” USDA Forest Service, 1996

Photograph courtesy of Patrick Davis

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Well, in actuality the IC should already be established before a chief arrives. Just because a chief arrives doesn't necessarily mean they are assuming command, so in reality the question becomes much different then.

So if a chief arrives and command is passed to them, it would be what crews are doing what, attack, backup, RIT, search, vent....or what needs to be done by next in companies. Occupants, hazards, status of utilities, special conditions if existed.


From attack, what the conditions are inside, visibility, smoke conditions, fire located or not

Backup, much the same

Vent, progress, type (vert or horiz)

Search, started?, Conditions,


My biggest beef with any officer is when they arrive first on scene...and say nothing.  (2012 on scene).

When you arrive on scene you should give a general size-up report, quick and accurate.  On scene, smoke showing from second floor windows of 2 1/2 story Type V wood frame occupied dwelling, tennants unaccounted for, assuming command.

When I arrive on scene as a chief, I would like to see my line officers approach me with their size-up information and what they have requested mutual aid, whats on scene as far as personnel and equipment, and what tactics they have employed so far.  When I receive command from a line officer I generally try to keep that line officer in the loop, and make them Operations so they can continue with the command part of it and work with me.  This way I have the first arriving officer with that knowledge of what the scene looked like initially with me in the command chain.


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