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Who's in Charge?


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Simple ish question after a few of us got talking today.

Who is the overall commander of an incident in reference to legalities, is it the OIC or another higher rank (maybe tack advisor or monitoring officer), does it come down to rank/role or the ICS level?

When I say 'in charge' I mean holding the rail at a coroners court or crown court.


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To put another spin on it: If a Retained Officer is in charge of an incident and he is of a higher rank than a wholetime officer, then I take it the Retained Officer stays as the incident commander? 

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1 hour ago, Noddy said:

Highest rank carries the can 

So a T/CM with ICS level 1 and a substantive WM also ICS level 1 both on the same job the WM carries the can (by law) if anything happens?


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Lifted straight from the foundation of Incident Command

I hope this helps?

The incident commander at an incident is the nominated competent and responsible person. When a more senior officer attends an incident, they should assess the existing operational plan and priorities. They will need to review the current risk assessment and the incident plan. This assessment forms part of the command process and will help decide whether to take over command or to take on another role, for example, operational assurance or active incident monitoring.

The most senior officer present holds organisational accountability, even when they have not taken the role of incident commander. This cannot be passed to another person. This arrangement allows a senior officer to take a variety of other roles, including providing tactical advice, mentoring and monitoring. Therefore a most senior officer present does not need to take the role of incident commander.

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Had a discussion with a middle manager that said it's more appropriate for the TCM/CM (who has local knowledge) to sit in the front of an appliance and run any incidents when a WM (sent in for cover) rides in the back because they have the same level of ICS.

Edited by Carl
Quote removed as its a direct quote from the post above. See FAQ
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Not in our brigade @Hobbesy unless they are being mentored..highest rank is legally responsible as above. And would have to take over of things are going t##ts up. Would also have to notify control that WM is in the back.

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In GMFRS WM would never ride in the back. If a SM arrives at an incident, they have to take over or leave. We do not do any of this "You carry on and I will stay in a monitoring capacity" Highest rank is OIC.

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I'd never seen anything like it, I'm new to this FRS but not to being a firefighter or officer. 

Couldn't believe the GM and from what I can see the AM overruled the WM and made him ride the back.

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I recall a job where I requested the fire investigation unit.

When the station officer arrived, the job I was in charge of was 4 x Pumps, an aerial and hose layer. I briefed the FIU Station officer that the fire was small, but that large angry crowd of travellers who live there are alleging that £25,000 in cash has been stolen by the LFB from a back bedroom

"Jesus,!" exclaimed  the Station Officer in shock, " who is in charge?"

"You are"  I said with a smile (all 4 Pumping appliances had Sub Officers in charge) :)

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Yeah hobbsey...... 😱

The ics assssrssnent is not relevant to this 

This is about levels of responsibility regarding employees of the fire authority. It’s in statute. 

The most senior frs officer in attendance from the fire authority who’s ground the incident occurs is in charge, and ultimately responsible.  

To illustrate my answer... I’m a wm with L2 skills assessment. I can go to a job where there is already a t/cm in charge to use your example, and I can leave him in charge for development purposes if I choose. Doesn’t change the fact I’m responsible for the incident and my hands are on the rail. 

Equally I can go to another job and be running that job, if a sm turns up he can leave me to run it.... he is still holding that rail......

So....if there is a wm on that pump at your place, he is responsible......not the t/cm ... 🤷🏽‍♂️🙄

Also the rds or w/t thing is not relevant either. 

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We had a very similar conversation today in respect of the Ops Commander and Incident Commander and decisions made on the fire ground. The best we could come up with was that the Ops Commander has the responsibility and the Incident Commander has the accountability. 

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Yeah good discussion to have Carl. The ops commander has delegated responsibility and is accountable for their actions.  As is a sector commander and so on ? 

But the guy in charge is the guy in charge 😊 or girl ! 

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This is one of those forum topics, were a simple question has opened up a lot of debate, which has to be good.:)

Got to say, I like the old school approach that GMFRS use

19 hours ago, Carl said:

If a SM arrives at an incident, they have to take over or leave. We do not do any of this "You carry on and I will stay in a monitoring capacity" Highest rank is OIC.

Reminds me of back in the day when we still had rider Stn O's and quite a few wouldn't have thought twice of telling more senior officers, if they weren't taking over, politely or more robustly to get the eff' off my fire ground. Even the introduction of ICS didn't stop them, did hear of one officer who was avoiding taking charge, being asked to but on an observer tabard and stand at the inner cordon until the Oic had time to talk to him. Needless to say they didn't hang around too long.😂

Currently what a lot of people seem to forget is the accountability part of the incident command foundation, which @Ian has posted. They seem to thing that by taking on some of the other roles, they are dissolved of this. I have heard officers on the radio saying they are not taking charge, but will be staying at the incident to offer advice etc and you know by the way they're saying this, they think it gets them off the hook. More fool them, but it is worrying.

Going back to the situation @Hobbesy describes, I suspect if something goes wrong you will also find the policy makers and senior management up on corporate charges.

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Nothing remarkable that I agree to what has been said.

This wasn't a hypothetical discussion, I saw a WM turn up at a station (As ICS) to cover a staff shortfall. Because the watch had asked for a FF the CM refused to ride in the rear under the WM.

This was taken past the SM (who by all accounts agreed with the CM) and placed in front of the GM where he also sided with the GM.

As you can imagine this has caused some questions to be asked around the 'adults' and answers are being sort.

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Sounds like a recent large job we had , where one of our very senior officers turned up at an incident , in fire kit walking around, As I was in ops assurance at the time I had to remind him /ask what role he was fulfilling whilst there, I even handed him a tabard (thats my promotion prospects knackered!)

He assumed an  incident monitoring officer role by the way, 

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On 29/01/2019 at 23:51, Carl said:

..the Ops Commander has the responsibility and the Incident Commander has the accountability. 

I was literally starting my reply and then saw this perfect summary 😂👍🏻


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Responsibility as being in charge of, or the owner of a particular task or event. (Ops Commander)

Accountability is answerable, liable and blameworthy. (Incident Commander)

I guess it's no different that being on a watch, when a member of the watch cocks up, they are responsible for the cock up but its the gaffer that gets the blocking as he is accountable for his watch members. 

Its a big play on words that has found itself inside our IC Manuals :)

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This matter was actually decided on Sunday, 2nd September, 1666 and remains unaltered since then.

During the Great Fire of London, the Lord Mayor and merchants prevented their premises from being demolished to create firebreaks and the fire continued to spread.  On the Sunday, King Charles II put the Prince of York in charge of firefighting, his Writ gave him powers to do anything he deemed reasonable. Over-riding all objections the Prince ordered troops and others to build firebreaks and the fire was brought under control. That concept of absolute powers without immediate redress has remained in force since then.

U.K. legislation grants powers to fire authorities regarding their duties at incidents and specifies that those powers are vested in the senior fire brigade officer present. These is no reference to role, just to presence.   There are no legal powers vested to any other fire service personnel at the incident, whatever their role.

However, the senior fire brigade officer present may use their unmitigated powers to bestow powers to junior personnel and that includes the person designated as Incident Commander at a particular time.

The senior office present has all the powers, all the responsibility, all the time.

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3 hours ago, Kinmel said:

The senior office present has all the powers, all the responsibility, all the time.

Well, not strictly true in the sense that many a CFO has had their cock on the block in the past due to a firefighter death or similar incident. The CFOs were not present at the incident but were in court to be held accountable and of course responsible for such death or mishap?.

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Those prosecutions were brought under H&S laws on the basis of incomplete training, or other pre-incident inadequacies, rather than for command decisions at an incident.


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