How We Fight Fires - Incident Command System

Managing emergency incidents such as forest fires can be complex and challenging. Staff engaged in firefighting activities must understand both their roles and responsibilities, as well as, the roles and responsibilities of others working at the incident. Fire Management personnel are increasingly being shared between agencies across Canada and the U.S. Canadian Fire Management agencies realized that it would be more efficient if we all used the same basic organization structure on forest fires, used the same job function titles and used standard training materials.


The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC), provinces and territories agreed to adopt the Incident Command System (ICS) developed in the United States. Modified versions of ICS are also used by fire management organizations in Australia and New Zealand.


Key features of the Incident Command System


The Incident Command System satisfies four essential requirements:

  1. The system must be organizationally flexible to meet the needs of incidents of any kind and size.
  2. Agencies must be able to use the system on a day-to-day basis for routine situations as well as for major emergencies.
  3. The system must be sufficiently standard to allow personnel from a variety of agencies and diverse geographic locations to rapidly meld into a common management structure.
  4. The system must be cost effective.
The ICS organization builds around five major functions that are required on any incident whether it is large or small:
  1. Incident Command
  2. Operations
  3. Planning
  4. Logistics
  5. Finance/Administration

ICS establishes lines of supervisory authority and formal reporting relationships. There is complete unity of command as each position and person within the system has a designated supervisor. Direction and supervision follows established organizational lines at all times.