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Full NIMS Nationally. NIMS Essentials Locally

A few years ago I was taking photographs and overlying different fire effects that I pulled from other photographs to create simulations. Then a program came out called Photoshop, an excellent program, unfortunately expensive. To be more effective at producing simulations, I purchased the $600 program. When I opened the program I found it to be extremely sophisticated. The full program had many applications that I was never able to use with my limited knowledge of photography and of the program. It would have required several courses of study to become competent, and I would have been happy to do just that if photo retouching and photos enhancement was how I earned my living. However, my goal was to simply produce more realistic photographs for simulations.

Several months after I purchased the full program, the company came out with a program they called Photoshop Essentials. Photoshop Essentials was designed for someone like me, someone who needed only specific basic components of the program. This program was only $100; I purchased it and still use it today, several years later. Both programs are extremely useful, and both programs are extremely necessary--one for the folks who earn their living involved in very sophisticated photo-related activities, and the other for folks like me who have very simple photo retouching needs.

Today, I am absolutely convinced that NIMS is the most sophisticated and most effective system available to manage complicated, large-scale events. I completely support the presidential directive which mandated the use of NIMS for all national incidents and events we classify as type one, two, or three. I want to be absolutely clear that I fully support and am extremely grateful to the folks who developed NIMS. Additionally, I have the utmost respect for those individuals and the great care and tremendous efforts that they extend to continually refine it and make it better.

Currently we find ourselves with a dilemma: no one can dispute the effectiveness and the necessity for NIMS or the critical importance of all command officers being not only aware of but proficient in the use of it. But as I travel around the country--which I do weekly,--I'm continually addressed by experienced and well-intentioned firefighters of all ranks who feel deeply that they do not understand how to use NIMS effectively on the fireground at the level four- and five-routine events which they are called on to manage a daily basis.

One solution recently proposed to the NFPA was to create a NIMS Essentials standard. The terminology that was suggested was to call the standard the Local Incident Management Standard or LIMS. This proposal has elicited both strong support and strong opposition. The reactions were not unexpected; I would have been surprised if I did not see reactions. I hope that we can go forward with this discussion in the fire service and address people's concerns without creating villains and heroes. There are no good or bad guys here, just firefighters with differing experiences and backgrounds. By engaging in discussion and collaborating, we always come out better.

Briefly, here are the two views. Opponents of this local incident management standard contend that the current all-hazards approach NIMS is scalable. The common analogy is that of the toolbox from which you can select the various tools you need depending on the job you are trying to perform. The folks opposed to the new local standard point to 35 years of effective use of ICS/NIMS on the West coast with great success.

I think we need to explore what West Coast ICS in this system looks like; it may very well be NIMS Essentials. Opponents also state that the creation of a separate standard for local type one and two events undermines the importance and effectiveness of the NIMS system. Opponents are concerned that a separate standard would erode the point of presidential directive number five, which was to create a common framework and terminology for incident management for all of the various practitioners of public safety as a matter of national security.

Those who support the local incident management standard believe that rather than undermine it would enhance and improve the NIMS system by establishing a base or basic footprint for routine events locally. Proponents state that all terminology used in the local incident management standard would be NIMS compliant. Those who support local incident management believe that this would give the local fire chief and firefighters a standard which would have attainable and measurable goals for fire departments of any and all sizes.

They contend that the current NIMS system as it is currently being presented is a top-down presentation. They, the proponents of local incident management, want to do a bottom-up presentation for local implementation of NIMS principles.

I emphatically support the NFPA allowing this discussion to go forward. To stop the discussion at this point would be to say that there is no legitimate issue. That is simply not true, otherwise we would not have the firefighters who are ready and willing to use the system as it currently stands, concerned that they either cannot or do not understand how to do so correctly at the local level.

This does not mean that these individuals do not want to use the NIMS system, rather that it's unclear how NIMS compliance is to be accomplished at routine local emergencies. Simply stating that NIMS is a toolbox and one can select the components one needs is a gross oversimplification of the issue. And certainly not an answer to the dedicated and concerned firefighters who want to be compliant, effective, and part of the solution in complex incident management. Like the smart folks at Photoshop, let's develop a NIMS Essentials for 95 percent of what we do, and let's assure that we are all well-educated in NIMS, the full package for major events which require using the full program.

To have you voice heard on this matter, you need to send your opinion, favorably or unfavorably, to Codes and Standards Administration, NFPA, 1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy,
MA 02169-7471, by October 15, 2008. Some organizations are providing prewritten letters for you to use. That is not a tactic which I support as it appeals to the lowest possible motivation to compel us to participate.

If you are concerned, take five minutes and simply respond in your own words. Attached are links to the NFPA site where you can see the proposal and the call for comments on the PDFs attached below. I have also, in the interest of fairness, attached the Cal Chiefs' opposition letter, which is extremely articulate and represents many of my friends' positions on the matter. Please take the time to read everything, pro and con, before you make your opinion known.

When you have a chance to engage in a discussion, it's important that you take it. I hope you do, regardless of how you feel. Most importantly, passion is no excuse for us to act as anything but the gentlemen and gentlewomen that we are. Please exercise respect and dignity when responding to the NFPA of any other professional forum. Thanks for taking the time to read this and thanks for caring about your profession.


See what folks are saying about this issue in our Community site.

posted by Bobby Halton
10/11/2008 03:41:00 PM

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Blogger Michael H. Reynolds said...


Glad to see this proposal from Chief Brunacini, and to see you introduce the topic in this forum.

The last time we visited was in the spring of 2004, at the Pasta Cafe in Carlsbad, NM where you, your son (11 yrs old at that time) and I had lunch together. Many changes since then.

The perplexing issue regarding how to downsize NIMS for daily use by FDs responding to incidents that will be resolved within hours, but with extreme IDLH exposures (essentially every structural response nationwide in every department, whether metroplex or village) is not necessarily a failure of DHS or the NIMS Integration Center (NIC), but rather the way (and by whom) it is taught. It is really not a question of downsizing NIMS, but rather making routine, daily responses the single celled, fertilized eggs of the NIMS process for managing an escalating incident.

Now that the overall NIMS system (IC 100 through IC 400, prefaced by IS 700 & IS 800a) has been promulgated, it is time, as Chief B emphasizes, to develop some instruction (not necessarily a Standard) for making currently successful scene management at the local level evolve seamlessly into a NIMS Level 5 incident.

Some may argue that a local level inicident is a NIMS Level 5 Incident. Perhaps, however the critical question is, How smoothly can any village, volunteer, small municipal career, or combination department transition from a routine response if it becomes an escalating incident -- however limited the escalation may be? Or if the incident does not escalate, how well is the incident managed? If through some quirk of fate, a simple incident did manage to escalate, how easily could it be managed in accord with NIMS?

I feel that what Chief B is proposing, should be viewed not as a separate standard or system, but as an extension of the instructional process to facilitate small, local, dangerous, and fast paced incident management so that it is not contrasted with NIMS, but is a precursor to it.

This is an instructional issue, not an issue of Standards.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to this issue.

Mike Reynolds, Fire Chief
Carlsbad, NM Fire Dept.

Thu Oct 16, 11:31:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Mike O'Brien said...

This issue completely frustrates me. I have been chief officer in California for 18 years the last 6 as the Fire Chief of the Suisun City Fire Department. As an instructor I have taught ICS/NIMS for most of those years.

The problem is not that NIMS is designed only for large incidents, there is a misunderstanding of the basic concepts that are the building blocks of the system. My department uses NIMS on every incident we run and every event we manage.

Instructors must emphasize that NIMS scalability starts with the single position of Incident Commander (the only position that MUST be filled). The IC is responsible for the whole operation until and unless he creates other positions under him i.e. Operations, Plans, Divisions, etc. The challenge for instructors is to make the comparison between the current operating model and the NIMS model. Most likely they are very similar except for some terminology. If U.S. Marine Officers from the Mountain Warfare Training Center can grasp the concepts of NIMS and see the similarities to the military chain of command, then those in the fire service should be able to employee the NIMS concepts

NIMS management starts when the IC arrives on scene and establishes Command. If a couple of engines and a truck are all that is needed, that all the NIMS structure the IC needs. If the incident becomes much bigger then other positions are filled. The basic concepts that I learned from Chief Brunacini in “Fire Ground Command” back in the dark ages are still valid today in NIMS.

Even departments that do not think they are following NIMS are most likely following the concepts of NIMS scalability though they may not use the correct terminology.

I think every body agrees that freelancing on the fire ground is a bad thing. So the basic chain of command everybody uses on a small incident is in essence NIMS at its basic level.

What is not in the best interest of the fire service is the idea that a new standard is needed for small incidents. This will only confuse and hinder the ability to scale up an incident when and if the incident grows. We need to teach and have our personnel understand the basic building blocks before they try to learn how to command hundreds on the fireground.

Let’s not complain about the system, let’s make sure the instructors that teach the concepts thoroughly understand the material. Using NIMS at every incident and most other things we do every day is how we know it will be used when the “Big One” hits.

Mike O’Brien, Fire Chief
Suisun City Fire Department

Thu Oct 16, 06:09:00 PM EDT  
Blogger chief22 said...

I agree with both Chief Reynolds and Chief O'Brien. I have been in the Fire Service for 42 years and have served as Chief of both a small Volunteer Dept. in NY and a combination department in FL. I'm currently a Lead Instructor for an Emergency Management Consulting Company.
The problem with ICS is not the system. It is how students perceive the system and how it is taught.
I was recently tasked with presenting an ICS 400 class to a State Police Department. A few minutes into the class it was obvious that there was a serious problem. I paused in my presentation and inquired as to the nature of the problem. The students, all middle and high ranking State Police Commanders, said "We don't understand this stuff. We don't deal with major stuff like you fire guys. Why do we need this" Drawing on my experience of having 5 Uncles in the NYPD, I told them that they used ICS all the time. I related the following incident. Two Police Officers respond to a robbery in progress. When they arrive one PO tells the other "you go around to the back door.When you get there let me know. We'll count to three and both go in and get him" They did that. I then told my PO's that that was ICS. One guy took command, formed an Incident Action Plan and they executed it, the plan, not the robber.
They agreed with me so I said now let's discuss terminology and how it expands from there. We then had a very fruitful and interesting learning experience. My point in relating this is that the example used was about as basic a local emergency that one can get and the ICS system handled it without any problem, in fact the two PO's in the example didn't even realize they used it.
I have admired Chief Brunacini for many years but on this issue I must disagree with him.The problem isn't the system it's how it is taught. We are pushing people into higher levels of training before they have really absorbed what they have previously learned. I honestly feel that less than 10% percent of those State Police officials will ever need ICS 400 but here we were forcefeeding them 300 and 400 in a week. And to make it worse they had all taken 100, 200 and 700 ON-LINE during the preceding month. Why, because it is not really clear who REALLY needs 300 and 400 and funding is tied to it. Therefore, the rush is on to check the boxes.
I believe that at the least ICS 100 should be taught by a live instructor and not be available on-line. This is the foundation we must build upon and where we can de-mystify the process. If everyone really understands the basics they will see that it can be used in everyday life and even the smallest incident runs better under it.
Thomas P. Cullen, Fire Chief (ret.)
Point Breeze Fire Dept.,NY
Tavernier Fire Dept.,FL
Lead Instructor, Early Alert.Inc.

Sat Oct 25, 02:03:00 AM EDT  

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