Wildland firefighting terms: what do they mean?

Posted at 4:01 PM, Aug 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-14 18:01:49-04

(GREAT FALLS) With several large wildfires now burning in Montana, people are seeing many references to firefighting terms such as "Type 2" teams and "ICS." But what do they mean?

The Incident Command System (ICS) is used to manage people and resources during several types of incidents, including rescues, hurricanes, and other types of disasters — including wildland fires.

The National Park Service says that the Incident Command System (ICS) is flexible, scaling up or down as a fire’s complexity changes and the needs of the incidents change. 

Type 5 is the least complex, while Type 1 is the most complex.

Here is a brief summary of terms from the NPS:

Type 5: (very small wildland fire only)
Initial attack
Short duration, seldom lasting into the next burn period
Few resources assigned (generally less than 6 people)
Little complexity

Type 4
Initial attack or first response to an incident
IC is “hands on” leader and performs all functions of Operations, Logistics, Planning, and Finance
Few resources are used (several individuals or a single strike team)
Normally limited to one operational period
Does not require a written Incident Action Plan (IAP)
Examples: Search & Rescue (SAR), motor vehicle accidents, small fires

Type 3
Extended initial attack on wildland fires
IC walks the line between a manager and a ‘doer’
Resources may vary from several single resources to several task forces or strike teams
Some Command/General Staff positions (ie, Division Supervisor, Unit Leader), may be filled
May extend into another operational period (12 hours), and require an IAP
Examples: Larger SAR’s, law enforcement incidents, special events, technical rescues, fires

Type 2
IC spends all time being a manager
Most Command and General staff positions are filled
Large number of resources utilized
Incident extends into multiple operational periods
Base camp(s) established
Significant logistical support is required
Examples: Major fires, VIP visits, lengthy search and rescues, law enforcement incidents, multi-day special events

Type 1
All functions are filled, plus leaders, branches etc.
Multi-agency and national resources
Large number of personnel and equipment are assigned to the incident
It is a large, complex incident
Examples: A major Incident—hurricanes, very large fires, natural disasters
The National Park Service supports and participates in interagency teams at both national and geographical area levels.

Area Command
Area command is established when an incident is so large that it must be divided and managed as two or more separate incidents; or when multiple, separate incidents with Incident Management Teams (IMT) must be managed. The role of area command is to provide oversight direction to multiple incidents rather than providing direct action on any one incident as a Type 1 or Type 2 IMT would. Area command manages the efforts of various Incident Commanders to ensure that the overall objectives are being met, to set priorities among incidents and to allocate scarce resources between incidents.

Summary of Definitions

Incident Command System—The management system used to direct all operations at the incident scene. The Incident Commander (IC) is located at an Incident Command Post (ICP) at the incident scene.

Unified Command—An application of ICS used when there is more than one agency with incident jurisdiction. Agencies work together through their designated Incident Commanders at a single incident command post (ICP) to establish a common set of objectives and strategies, and a single Incident Action Plan.

Area Command (Unified Area Command)—Established as necessary to provide command authority and coordination for two or more incidents in close proximity. Area Command works directly with Incident Commanders. Area Command becomes Unified Area Command when incidents are multi-jurisdictional. Area Command may be established at an EOC facility or at a location other than an ICP.

Multiagency Coordination (MAC)—An activity or a formal system used to coordinate resources and support between agencies or jurisdictions. A MAC Group functions within the MACs, which interact with agencies or jurisdictions, not with incidents. MACS are useful for regional situations. A MAC can be established at a jurisdictional Emergency Operations Center (EOC) or at a separate facility.

Emergency Operations Center (EOC)—Also called Expanded Dispatch, Emergency Command and Control Centers, etc. EOCs are used in various ways at all levels of government and within private industry to provide coordination, direction, and control during emergencies. EOC facilities can be used to house Area Command and MAC activities as determined by agency or jurisdiction policy.

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