Fire and Rescue Service Wildfire Operational Guidance

This guidance has been produced to give fire and rescue service personnel an additional understanding and awareness of the phenomenon of wildfire. It examines the hazards, risks and controls relating to Fire and Rescue Service personnel, the personnel of other agencies and members of the public at Incidents of wildfire. It also provides a point of reference for those who may be called upon to plan for wildfire events and for those incident commanders and personnel responding to such incidents.

8B7 Wildfire Incident Management

Incident Command at Wildfire Incidents

8B7.1 Wildfire incidents can often be complex and dynamic; taking place within a spatial environment that can result in rapid, and frequent, alterations to fire behaviour. Effectively applying an Incident Command System (ICS)[1], resilient enough to cope with the demands and rigours imposed by a wildfire incident is often challenging.

8B7.2 The UK ICS is the doctrine used by Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) to manage all operational incidents. ICS is fundamentally based around establishing effective control of the incident and all personnel committed to it. A critical factor will be the Incident Commander's understanding of the operational context and environment within which incident command is to be exercised.

8B7.3 The effectiveness of the ICS used within the UK is heavily dependent upon effective communications, the ability to gather incident related intelligence and to use this information to formulate a plan that will bring the situation to a safe conclusion. This plan is reliant on the use of supporting systems that are capable of monitoring the effectiveness of the operational tactics and strategy, and instigating suitable responses to any changes to the wildfire operational environment.

8B7.4 The ICS achieves its objectives by establishing effective command in three functional areas which are:

  • Organisation on the Incident Ground
  • Incident Risk Assessment
  • Command Competence

8B7.5 Effective Incident Command depends on whether personnel have the capacity and the inherent skills necessary to manage, and demonstrate all three. Any failure of wildfire Incident Command is not due to weaknesses in the system itself, but rather by the failure to provide officers with the necessary competencies to gain effective control.

8B7.6 The UK ICS relies on the provision of trained, experienced and confident officers. These must be able to apply systems that support the ICS by addressing issues that are specific to wildfire.

Decision Making

8B7.7 There is a necessary reliance within the UK ICS, on the decision making process. To have confidence and assurance in the ability of their personnel to make relevant command decisions in a wildfire environment, FRSs must ensure an appropriate level of wildfire understanding and expertise. Personnel that have only limited understanding of the operational environment may not have the ability to make the precise judgments necessary to fulfil their operational responsibilities.

8B7.8 Effective decision making is dependent on officers having had appropriate training, obtained relevant experience and by having the means to gather sufficient and accurate incident-related intelligence. Informed and competent officers are then able to formulate a plan, set objectives and assess and control risk.

8B7.9 The decision making process is addressed in greater detail within Section 8 Part C - Generic Standard Operating Procedure.

Wildfire Training

8B7.10 Without an appropriate understanding of wildfire behaviour or the complexities of the broader wildfire environment which can result in extreme changes to fire intensity, there is the potential for individuals to fail to evaluate wildfire risk effectively. A lack of wildfire command and control or operational competence results in a reactive, rather than a proactive approach to safety, and can potentially result in the adoption of unsafe systems of work.

8B7.11 Only by providing appropriate wildfire training, can FRSs expect their operational activity to succeed. Every UK FRS, to a greater or lesser extent, has a wildfire risk and it is essential that each service adopts a training response based upon local circumstances.

8B7.12 It is interesting to note, that the UK ICS is based on a system that was developed by the US Forest Service to specifically manage wildfire incidents. This is an example of the many good practices that have been developed by land management agencies.

Partnership Approach

8B7.13 FRSs should consider the significant benefits of incorporating partners from land management agencies within the incident command structure when developing their operational response.

8B7.14 Whilst it should be routine practice to make use of the expertise and knowledge of land managers who are present at the scene of a wildfire incident, the proactive and planned inclusion of rural sector environmental specialists such as SEPA (or the EA in England and Wales) within the incident command structure may not be commonplace.

8B7.15 All these partners can bring a wide range of specialist skills and expertise to the effective management of a wildfire incident, and they may possess knowledge and expertise that cannot be replicated by FRS personnel. Wherever possible, consideration should also be given to the inclusion of rural sector and land management personnel within specialist teams to provide additional support to FRS personnel.

8B7.16 As FRSs have a statutory responsibility to prevent damage to the environment resulting from their activities, the utilisation of representatives from SEPA and SNH (EA or NE in England and Wales) to advise the Incident Commander should be considered at an early stage of operations.

These expert partners can play an important role in assisting in the development of environmental considerations within the analytical risk assessment which the command team should use to deal with the potential impact of:

  • Contamination of water courses or catchment areas from water run off or airborne particles.
  • Potential impact of wildfire/firefighting operations upon highly vulnerable sites, i.e. SSSI/SPA/SAC.
  • The use of chemical gels, retardants, foams and wetting agents.
  • Potential impact of soil erosion (i.e. increased flood risk) arising from the wildfire or firefighting operations.
  • Potential impact of the wildfire smoke plume and products of combustion on human health.
  • The potential release of ground pollutants and heavy metals into the atmosphere due to wildfire activity.
  • The impact of fire suppression techniques on the recovery and regeneration of habitat networks.

8B7.17 The use of partners within the FRS response to a wildfire incident can be enhanced following detailed and robust awareness training between both sectors. It is of particular benefit to ensure that rural and land management partners have a thorough understanding of fire service ICS and they understand the roles they may be expected to perform and the range and limits of their responsibilities.

8B7.18 FRSs should consider including partner agencies within their local wildfire training arrangements and partners should be encouraged to develop appropriate skills and awareness building within their own agencies.

Crew Management

"The ICS and supporting processes constitute a template against which incident command policies and procedures can be written in FRSs, and the training and assessment of individuals and teams to operate those safely and effectively can be conducted."

This is text taken from Chapter 1, Fire Service Manual, Volume 2, Incident Command (3rd edition). This statement makes clear the responsibility on all FRSs to formulate their own plans in order to meet the requirements of personnel expected to work within the ICS.

8B7.20 It is particularly relevant to the deployment of personnel to wildfire events where the generally accepted 'team' or 'crew' refers to an appliance staffing level. At wildfire incidents, a team of this limited size may not be ideal and can actually prove to be counterproductive due to the complexities of managing large numbers of disparate personnel within a spatial environment.

8B7.21 Wildfire incidents can sometime require the attendance of significant resources, drawn from a number of FRSs and partner agencies. Often, hundreds of personnel can become involved and the command structure can be placed under extreme stress. Establishing a command structure that can ensure the safety of personnel operating within a very dynamic situation, and who may be dispersed in small groups across a very wide area, can be exceedingly challenging.

Crew Size

8B7.22 At an incident that has large numbers of personnel in attendance, it may be appropriate, and more efficient and effective to place some of these personnel in larger groupings, typically of 10-12 persons. There can be significant benefits to this approach, not only to the ICS but also to the individuals making up the teams.

  • Fewer crews - raising the number of people in each team can significantly reduce the total number of disparate crews committed onto the fire ground.
  • A crew supervisor is more able to concentrate on the Lookout role within the LACES protocol. They are then able to monitor fire behaviour and issues related to team safety.
  • Due to the lower numbers of crews the communication process is simplified and commanders are better able establish and maintain contact with all crews throughout the incident.
  • Tactical lookouts will be responsible for fewer teams and will have to communicate with fewer crew lookouts.
  • Less radio traffic and a less complex communication system facilitating a more efficient transfer of information within the ICS.
  • Fewer briefings required allowing for a better information exchange.
  • Crews have the capacity to be more resilient.
  • Crews are more effective, a larger team can employ a more effective system of work utilising a number of tactics at once that benefits all team members.
  • Crews can remain active for longer and address many of their own welfare issues.

Fig. B7.1 Showing a wildfire at which the personnel have been deployed in standard appliance sized groupings

Fig. B7.1 Showing a wildfire at which the personnel have been deployed in standard appliance sized groupings

8B7.23 The illustration above shows an example of personnel within an ICS utilising crew sized groupings. If we examine the resilience of a small crew, it is more difficult for a team of 4/5 personnel to establish an effective or safe system of work. A small team is unlikely to have the capacity to meet the minimum requirements of LACES. If each team requires a supervisory officer then up to 25% of the total work force may be required to perform this management role. It will be difficult to maintain control over so many teams, or even establish effective communications.

Fig. B7.2 This illustration uses a similar number of personnel as in fig 13.1 but the personnel have been deployed in larger crews

Fig. B7.2 This illustration uses a similar number of personnel as in fig 13.1 but the personnel have been deployed in larger crews

8B7.24 This illustration shows a similar number of personnel that have been deployed in crews of 10. This can significantly ease communication problems and improve control over operational issues. Larger teams, made up of between 8-12 personnel are operationally more resilient and able to operate more efficiently by rotating tasks. This allows individuals to be rested, and more importantly for team supervisors, to concentrate their efforts on maintaining safe systems of work.

Fig. B7.3 A larger sized crew can be more resilient and adopt a more flexible system of work

Fig. B7.3 A larger sized crew can be more resilient and adopt a more flexible system of work

The LACES Safety Protocol

8B7.25 This guidance emphasises the hazardous nature of wildfire, and the various risks that firefighters can be exposed to whilst taking part in operational activities. Globally, wildfire tragedies occur with regrettable frequency. At many of these tragic events there are multiple casualties, and at some, whole groups of firefighters have perished. These misfortunes are not restricted to countries such as the USA and Australia but frequently occur on the continent of Europe, and in recent years many European firefighters have tragically been killed at wildfire incidents.

8B7.26 The wildfire behaviour within the UK wildfire environment can be equally dangerous. All wildfire incidents are potentially hazardous, many are life threatening, and it is imperative that FRSs appreciate that without proper training, appropriate understanding and effective systems of work, FRS personnel and those that work with them remain at significant risk.

The acronym LACES stands for:






8B7.27 The LACES protocol is developed from a US wildfire safety system that was created to address the major risks to firefighter safety. The LACES protocol simplified more complex safety advice used in the USA and elsewhere such as the 10 Standard 'Fire Orders' and the 18 'Watch Out' situations.

8B7.28 LACES is an uncomplicated and easily applied safety system that is ideally suited for UK FRS use. It is internationally recognised as good practise, and has been adopted in many countries to improve the safety of operational personnel at wildfire incidents. The UK version of LACES is similar to the US system but has been adapted to ensure its compatibility with UK FRS systems.

8B7.29 The principal advantage of LACES is that it can be applied to all wildfire situations and acts as a controlling process, which, if followed, ensures critical risks are considered and monitored and that others are significantly diminished.

8B7.30 It is used to establish effective control of safety issues during a wildfire incident. It does this by ensuring that the activities of personnel, operating within a dynamic environment are closely supervised, and that changes to fire behaviour are identified and appropriately monitored.

8B7.31 The five elements of LACES are the primary safety factors that require supervision and management at any wildfire incident. If these issues are properly addressed, personnel should be kept safe. The various elements contained within the LACES protocol, ensure that:

  • Personnel are supervised and remain informed of the status and development of the wildfire.
  • The situation is monitored and the risks that personnel are exposed to are continually assessed.
  • It proactively identifies a response to any unexpected events, ensuring that an escape route exists to take personnel from a place of danger to one of complete safety.

8B7.32 All large wildfires began as small fires; therefore LACES should always be adopted as a safety system at all vegetation fires. The risk to firefighter safety should not be measured by the apparent size of an incident and it is extremely hazardous to assume that smaller incidents are less dangerous than larger ones. Globally this perception has resulted in many firefighter casualties in the past. LACES should be instigated at the earliest opportunity.

An overview of the Five Elements of the LACES Protocol


8B7.33 A Lookout is a person that has the responsibility to monitor fire behaviour and how this may impact on the activities of operational personnel under their supervision. Lookouts at a wildfire incident can be appointed at crew, sector or incident level, depending on their training, expertise and experience.

Crew Lookouts

8B7.34 A Crew Lookout must always be appointed and is normally the team leader who is supervising the activities of an operational crew. This will usually be the crew or watch manager who already has the responsibility of managing the safety of the personnel under their command. In a wildfire situation they should take on the additional role of lookout. If resources allow, another officer can be appointed to act as the Crew Lookout. Crew Lookouts must be trained to understand and recognise dangerous wildfire situations and be able to instigate appropriate response actions.

A Crew Lookout has the following responsibilities:

  • Ensure that all personnel are fully briefed on the situation.
  • Ensure that everyone knows what escape routes and safety zones are to be used.
  • Take up a position from where they can observe the activities of all team members.
  • Observe and monitor fire behaviour and identify locations where it is likely to change.
  • Establish and remain in communication with team members, updating them with any relevant information.
  • Establish and remain in communication with tactical lookouts (If these have been appointed).
  • Establish and remain in communication with relevant officers within the ICS including Tactical Lookouts.
  • Withdraw personnel from areas that pose an unacceptable level of risk.

Tactical Lookouts

8B7.35 Crew lookouts usually operate in close proximity to the fire front and it is difficult for them to gain a full appreciation of what is happening beyond their immediate vicinity. In areas of higher risk, Tactical Lookouts perform a pivotal role within the LACES protocol and is a term used to describe a person who has been appointed by the Incident or Sector Commander to undertake the delegated responsibilities listed below:

  • Take up a position from where the area and the team(s) they have responsibility for can be observed.
  • Ensure that all personnel operating within the area they have responsibility for are operating within the LACES protocol.
  • Evaluate the escape routes and safety zones that have been selected.
  • Observe and monitor fire behaviour and proactively identifying areas where this might change.
  • Establish and remain in communication with Crew Lookouts, updating them with any relevant information.
  • Establish and remain in communication with other Tactical Lookouts (If these have been appointed).
  • Establish and remain in communication with relevant officers within the ICS.
  • Monitor current weather conditions and obtain forecasts.
  • Exchange information with relevant personnel.
  • Cause personnel to be withdrawn from areas that pose unacceptable levels of risk.

8B7.36 Tactical Lookouts must be trained to have an understanding of risks within the wildfire environment and an awareness of the potential changes to wildfire behaviour. At larger incidents or, where deemed appropriate, more than one Tactical Lookout may be appointed.


8B7.37 Awareness is covered in more detail in the section covering 'Situational Awareness'. Within the LACES protocol, awareness concentrates on maintaining alertness to the changes that may impair safety and ensuring that personnel remain fully informed. The deployment of Tactical Lookouts, and the existence of Crew Lookouts, ensures that the dynamics of the situation can be constantly monitored.

8B7.38 Nevertheless, individuals within the team should ensure that they also remain vigilant and continually evaluate both their working, and the wider fire situation. By observing fire behaviour team members can also raise awareness of any potential hazard to colleagues which can then subsequently be relayed to the incident command team.

8B7.39 When working near the fire front it is important that team members remain conscious of the broader situation taking place around them and do not become too focused on their immediate surroundings. It is important that personnel are given detailed briefings and receive regular updates from their lookouts and supervising officers.


8B7.40 At a wildfire incident, where changes to fire behaviour can occur suddenly it is necessary to establish an effective communication system. As close supervision, and effective communication with personnel is often difficult at a wildfire incident, full advantage should be made of hand held and portable radio systems on the fire ground.

8B7.41 As part of the preplanning processes, FRSs should be aware of areas where radio communications may be ineffective and should make suitable alternative arrangements to ensure that contact can be maintained with personnel and teams working on the fire ground. An inefficient communication system will seriously impair the effectiveness of any command structure.

It is also important to ensure that any rural and land management partners are included within the established communication system.

8B7.42 Communication within the LACES protocol is not limited to direct radio contact but also includes verbal communication. For instance, it is imperative that meaningful briefings are given to personnel prior to deployment onto the fire ground and that subsequent, and on-going; briefings should be provided at the fire front to maintain situational awareness.

8B7.43 The LACES protocol encourages communication and the exchange of information between fire ground operational Commanders, Tactical and Crew Lookouts, and personnel that make up any operational teams.

Escape Routes

8B7.44 It is essential that personnel are aware of what action to take should an emergency situation arise. As a priority, the Crew Lookout must establish a safety zone and escape routes that will allow all team members to withdraw to a location that offers a place of complete safety. Whenever possible, it is good practice to have a primary and secondary escape route; in the event of the primary route being compromised the secondary one can then be used.

8B7.45 All personnel must understand the route to be taken as well as what signal will be given to trigger a move to the safety zone. During the identification and briefing of escape routes, positive affirmation should be sought from all personnel that they fully understand the information they have been given.

8B7.46 Escape routes should be kept as simple as possible moving through areas that pose little risk. Consideration should be given to topography, fuel types and weather factors such as wind direction when planning a route.

Safety Zone

8B7.47 A Safety Zone is a predetermined area where personnel can find refuge and safety from the effects of fire. It should be large enough to be used by all members of the crew(s) and should allow personnel to remain a minimum of four times the flame length away from the fire. Its size and location will depend on a number of factors but will generally be dictated by the size of the crews, the fuel types, terrain, expected fire behaviour and prevailing weather conditions.

8B7.48 Information on the area to be used as a Safety Zone should be communicated to Sector or Operational Commanders, and Tactical Lookouts if they have been deployed. The location of all identified Safety Zones should be relayed and recorded at the incident command post.

8B7.49 Safety Zones should be situated as close as possible, to the scene of operations. This will keep escape routes shorter and easier to follow. Establishing an escape route to a Safety Zone can be relatively easy to achieve and might be as simple as withdrawing back along the fire perimeter and into an area already burnt to mineral earth.

8B7.50 As the fire progresses across the landscape it may be necessary to change the location of the safety zone. If this is done, all personnel and supervising officers should be immediately informed and the changes recorded at the incident command post. By establishing a plan of escape everyone knows what action to take should an emergency situation occur. This will help team members make a composed and speedy response to any unforeseen event.

Situational Awareness (SA) in an Operational Environment

8B7.51 The actions or behaviour of individuals at an incident is often dictated by their interpretation of their environment and of the situation that they find themselves in. An individual's perception of any given situation, including a wildfire event, plays a significant part in their decision making processes and on their ability to perform within an operational role.

8B7.52 The attainment and maintenance of SA relies on a number of facets, some are human and others are environmental. In a dynamic situation such as a wildfire, what is clear is that SA is reliant on two major factors:

  • The practical knowledge and ability of individuals; this is normally acquired through a combination of training and experience.
  • The amount of information made available during an incident.

Situational awareness has been defined as:

"…the perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future."
Endsley M. R. (1988)

8B7.53 This interpretation of SA makes it clear that perception is dependent on an individual's ability to correctly comprehend what factors are influencing their surroundings, and what affect these will have on their current and future situation.

8B7.54 SA can also be described as having a true understanding of an operational environment. This should include an appreciation of any variations that are likely to occur within the time and space that the event is taking place. Having a true perception of the dynamics involved within an operational environment, allows an accurate interpretation of events. Individuals are then able to apply their training, skills and experience to the situation ensuring that safety and tactics are effective.

8B7.55 If personnel are inadequately trained and informed it is unlikely that they will be able to perceive their true world situation. In an environment as dynamic as a wildfire this can lead to inappropriate levels of risk.

The Three Hierarchical Phases of Situational Awareness

8B7.56 To expand upon the definition provided above SA is described as being achieved through three hierarchical phases, perception, comprehension and projection.

Fig. B7.4 Diagram showing the three hierarchical phases of situational awareness

Fig. B7.4 Diagram showing the three hierarchical phases of situational awareness

Level 1 SA - Perception of the elements in the environment
The first step of achieving SA involves perceiving the status, attributes, and dynamics of relevant elements in the environment. In a wildfire situation this might include the fuel and its arrangement, the shape of the topography and the weather.

Level 2 SA - Comprehension of the current situation
This goes beyond having an understanding of the elements that are present. It includes an understanding of how these will affect the environment and being aware of the significance of available information and events.

Level 3 SA - Projection of future status
This is having the ability to project the future actions of the elements of the environment, at least in the near term. This is the highest level of SA. This is achieved through knowledge of the status and dynamics of the elements and a comprehension of the situation.

Understanding the Environment

8B7.57 In a high risk low time environment such as wildfire, there is a need to understand what elements are influencing the situation and comprehend what will happen as a result. The ability to extract relevant environmental information during a crisis situation will largely depend on the provision of appropriate training and is the reason why all personnel that are deployed at wildfire incidents should have an understanding of the factors that influence fire behaviour.

Intelligence Gathering

8B7.58 SA is also dependent on an individual having the knowledge necessary to assess the factors and variables that may influence their situation. Effective situational awareness is dependent on the availability and collation of relevant information. Relevant intelligence that is gathered in relation to the wildfire event must be disseminated to personnel as part of the ICS communication process.

8B7.59 In a dynamic situation at the fire front, it is also critical that real time and contemporary information is given to personnel during briefings, both before and during the incident. All relevant personnel should be provided with information regarding any potential change either to the environment or the operational situation.

8B7.60 The dynamic and analytical risk assessment processes provide important information that is essential in attaining and maintaining SA. Specific wildfire intelligence to support the risk assessment process can be gathered through the use of the Wildfire Prediction System (WPS), this will provide information that explains which elements are relevant to the current situation and what changes are likely to occur in the future.

8B7.61 The LACES Protocol can also play an important part in supporting the acquisition and maintenance of SA. Whilst its primary purpose is one of maintaining overall safety, awareness is an element within its structure and therefore supports the concept and importance of SA.

8B7.62 The adoption of LACES at a wildfire incident requires that safety officers, in the form of crew and tactical lookouts, are appointed. These provide a network of officers on the fire ground that have a responsibility to collect and exchange information.

8B7.63 A prerequisite of LACES is that information is cascaded to relevant personnel. This process can guarantee that individuals are made aware of any changes to their situation or working/operational environment.

Constraints to Situational Awareness

8B7.64 There are two main factors that influence the degree to which individuals can acquire and maintain SA.

1. Human Factors
These are concerned with whether an individual possesses the personal attributes to enable them to extract information from the environment, and formulate an accurate assessment of the situation. This factor is related to individual ability, and the training and experience they have acquired.

2. Environmental Factors
These are concerned with the environment itself. If the situation is very dynamic, complex and high risk it may be difficult to extract the information necessary to form an accurate perception of the situation.

Incident Commanders must be aware of the challenges to maintaining effective SA and put in place processes that ensure that all appropriate information is shared with relevant personnel in good time.

The Importance of Situational Awareness to Incident Command

8B7.65 One of the primary functions of Incident Commanders must be the acquisition and maintenance of SA. It plays an integral part in the risk and decision making processes which are fundamental to achieving effective command.

8B7.66 At its lower levels, SA is applied by personnel who use it to perceive what is relevant to their local situation and apply this within their role and to their task. At a higher level it can be applied to predict future developments so that tactical adjustments can be made. This guidance has provided a number of important systems that can be utilised by officers to raise their awareness of their environment.

8B7.67 At a wildfire incident it is imperative that personnel have the competence to develop an accurate perception of their situation. Without appropriate wildfire training that enables the development of SA, personnel may not only be at increased risk, but they may not have the ability to fulfil their responsibilities within an incident command system.

Briefings at Wildfire Incidents

8B7.68 The primary responsibility of any Incident Commander is the safety of personnel working under their control. A briefing must be provided so that any hazards can be identified and that control over them can be established. Due to the dynamic and spatial nature of wildfire incidents the need for comprehensive briefings is particularly relevant. Briefings are an integral part of the ICS communication process and, as advised in Fire Service Manual, on Incident Command.

8B7.69 "A thorough briefing of crews must take place prior to deployment so that safety critical information can be shared."

Information has to be relayed accurately from the Incident Commander, or delegated officer, to the crews/teams prior to operational deployment. Crews must be aware of not only the risks involved but must also understand the overall plan and their role within it. The extent of any briefing will depend on the complexities of the operational environment.

8B7.70 This guidance recommends the adoption of SMEAC as an organisational aid to assist officers who are required to provide briefings at wildfire incidents. SMEAC can be used as a method of structuring a briefing that will ensure that all critical information is included.

8B7.71 As with all risk critical briefings, it is essential to ensure that opportunity is provided to ask questions and confirm understanding. FRS personnel may be aware of a number of variations of the SMEAC acronym, however due to the dynamic nature of a wildfire incident additional emphasis has been placed upon the Administration and Command and Control of the incident. Therefore, with regard to this wildfire guidance, SMEAC stands for:

S - Situation
M - Mission
E - Execution
A - Administration
C - Command and Control


This should include a full description of:

  • The fire including, its behaviour, location, size, and direction and rate of spread.
  • The topography over which the fire is burning and the effects that this will have on the fire.
  • The fuel and its arrangement.
  • The weather - including a detailed forecast.


  • This should provide details of the overall incident plan and the role of the team and their tasks within it.
  • Execution
  • This includes more specific information on how the team will operate and carry out the task that has been allocated.
  • It should include information on how LACES will be managed throughout the incident.


The team should be briefed on relevant logistical issues these might include:

  • Length of deployment
  • Reliefs
  • Welfare issues
  • A record of team members should be kept by Incident Command

Command and Control

Information on the command structure should be provided, this should include:

  • Lines of command
  • Communication processes and systems
  • Team Management within the ICS

Additional Information on ICS

8B7.72 This guidance does not deviate from the command doctrine outlined within the FRS Manual on Incident Command and recognises that the key principles of the UK ICS can be applied to wildfire incidents to ensure that they are effectively managed. It does however provide additional supporting systems and information that can be used at wildfire incidents.


8B7.73 It is recommended that FRSs adopt the terminology introduced in this guidance as it provides the framework for effective and consistent wildfire related communication on, and off, the fire ground.

Wildfire Policy

8B7.74 It is recommended that FRSs should develop effective policies governing their approach to wildfire incident command.

Procedures should be structured in accordance with the information contained within this guidance and Fire and Rescue Manual - Volume 2 Fire Service Operations - Incident Command, and be underpinned by an effective training strategy.

Fire and Rescue Jurisdiction

8B7.75 Although this guidance seeks to encourage an increased involvement with rural and land management partners, in particular their participation in operational activities, it is essential that all operational command roles at a wildfire incident remain under the jurisdiction and control of FRS officers.

FRS Incident Command Roles

The Incident Commander (IC)

8B7.76 The IC remains at all times responsible for the overall management of a wildfire incident including the tactics and resource management. The IC should have an appropriate understanding of wildfire and the command competence to safely manage the associated risks.

8B7.77 ICs must ensure that all personnel are operating within the LACES protocol and that this is instigated at the earliest opportunity. If appropriate, the IC should deploy tactical lookout(s) to oversee crews that are at risk and provide intelligence regarding fire behaviour and updates on the operational situation.

The IC must put in place a command structure that is able to safely support the management / control of the resources committed during the incident.

Operations Commander (OC)

8B7.78 An OC is an officer tasked with co-ordinating and directing the operations of several sectors. Due to the potential size and complexity of some wildfire incidents it may be necessary to appoint more than one OC. When an OC is appointed, Sector Commanders will report to the OC rather than the Incident Commander.

Sector Commander (SC)

8B7.79 Sector Commanders are tasked with responsibility for tactical and safety management of a clearly identified part of the incident. Subject to objectives set by the IC the SC has control over all operations within the sector and must remain within it.

8B7.80 Sector Commanders must remain in communication with all relevant officers within the command structure, and all personnel in their sector. Due to the nature of wildfire incidents it is often difficult for Sector Commanders to observe all operational activities of the crews under their command.

8B7.81 The LACES Protocol and the deployment of Tactical Lookouts can mitigate some supervision issues. LACES, ensures that the SC can have confidence that a situation is being continually monitored, and an immediate response can be made to any previously unforeseen hazards or developments.

Crew Commanders

8B7.82 A Crew Commander's primary responsibility is the supervision of specific tasks or meeting specific objectives utilising one or more firefighters and managing the safety of the personnel under their direct supervision.

Within the LACES Protocol Crew Commanders should also act as the Crew Lookout, and apply the guidance outlined within the LACES Protocol.

8B7.83 Crew Commanders must react immediately to deteriorating operational conditions and if necessary withdraw the crew following pre-arranged escape routes.

Crew Commanders should ensure that their team has the resilience to carry out its operational task, remain safe, and address welfare issues that may arise during a prolonged deployment.

Safety Officer

8B7.84 A safety officer can be designated at any time during a wildfire incident and will have specific responsibility for monitoring operations and ensuring the safety of personnel working on the incident ground or a designated section of it.

To enable them to be fully effective safety officers should have an awareness of wildfire behaviour.

Tactical Lookouts

8B7.85 Tactical Lookouts can be appointed by the Incident Commander or Sector Commanders to monitor the activities of crews operating in higher risk areas, their primary duty is to ensure the safety of the personnel that they have been given responsibility for.

8B7.86 A Tactical Lookout may be deployed to supervise the safety of a crew, a number of crews, a sector or depending on its size a whole incident.

HMEPO - Hazardous Materials and Environmental Protection Officer

8B7.87 FRSs should give consideration to the inclusion of an HMEPO within the wildfire incident command team to act as an environmental advisor to the Incident Commander and also provide sector competent liaison with partners from SEPA or the EA. Whenever possible, the deployment of an HMEPO should be based upon the potential environmental risks identified during the pre-planning process.

The Role of Specialist Wildfire Officers

8B7.88 Officers with specialist knowledge of wildfire can carry out a number of functions to ensure that their FRS is better prepared to meet the wildfire risk in their local area. At an incident, they can act as subject matter advisers or take on more complex risk critical operational roles, and their expertise can prove to be invaluable to the Incident Commander.

8B7.89 Prior to any incident occurring, specialist officers can assist in the preplanning required to determine a service's local operational response to the wildfire risk within their area. They can also play an important part in ensuring that there is effective liaison with partner agencies, to underpin the preplanning and prevention strategies developed by their services.

8B7.90 Operationally, specialist officers or personnel performing an advisory role will operate at a tactical level, providing support to the incident command structure and assisting in the control and co-ordination of resources. Personnel performing a wildfire advisory role should have the knowledge and understanding to provide information on issues including:

  • Fire behaviour and its future development.
  • The associated risks and the control measures to be instigated during the incident.
  • The appropriate tactics to be employed.
  • The suppression methods to be used.
  • The deployment of resources on the fire ground.
  • Provide advice or practical guidance in relation to map reading or navigational issues.
  • To gather and analyse operational intelligence.

(All wildfire specialist officers should have a thorough understanding of map reading, navigation and orienteering)

Specialist Teams

8B7.91 Some services may find it beneficial to develop teams of specialist officers or personnel that can perform more complex operational roles. The roles undertaken will depend on the needs identified by individual FRSs but can include the following:

  • Operating as Team, Sector or Incident lookouts.
  • Giving tactical support to operational commanders.
  • Form teams able to construct control lines.
  • Provide specialist skills such as operating mechanical tools such as chain saws or brush cutters.
  • Provide teams that are able to operate safely in areas on the fire ground that are more complex and require more wildfire expertise.
  • Provide teams that can operate safely during the hours of darkness.
  • Provide teams that can carry out specialist operational activities involving the use of fire.
  • Act as Aerial Sector Commanders.
  • Provide teams that have the operational capacity to provide ground support to aerial units.

The Role of Rural Wildfire Specialists/Fire Teams

8B7.92 Rural partners can play an invaluable role in supporting the incident command team in the effective resolution of a wildfire incident. Whereas it is always beneficial to make use of the local knowledge and experience that may be available at a wildfire incident, personnel performing the role of Rural Wildfire Specialists differ in so much as they should not only have sector competence within their own area of expertise, but should have received equivalent training and exercising as a FRS Specialist Wildfire Officer. This will ensure that they have knowledge and understanding of the FRS incident command system and the operational wildfire environment in which they will be required to operate.

8B7.93 Although it will be a matter for each FRS to determine, it is suggested that Rural Wildfire Specialists, subject to appropriate command and supervision, can undertake the following roles:

  • Act as an advisor to the incident command team
  • Act as a Tactical Lookout
  • Rural sector logistics support/management
  • Supervising vegetation clearance
  • Act as part of the incident command planning team/cell
  • Perform appropriate specialist operational roles under the command of the FRS Sector/Ops Commander
  • Assist in the compilation of accurate and timely media briefings

8B7.94 Rural Fire Teams can act independently in support of the tactical fire plan or they can be combined into larger fire teams which may also include FRS personnel. They consist of rural sector personnel trained to undertake fire suppression activities and can be led by a rural sector manager or Rural Wildfire Specialists, but must always remain under the control and direction of the FRS. Fire and Rescue service should satisfy themselves that any rural partners utilised to perform fire suppression activities have suitable PPE and equipment to perform the role.

Command Support

8B7.95 Command Support is a role undertaken by one or more staff at a wildfire incident to provide assistance to incident command team. The Command Support role typically provides recording, liaison, resource management, and information gathering for the Incident Commander. Land managers, or rural sector representatives included within the command support team, may assist in gathering valuable information and provide additional support throughout the incident.

8B7.96 With reference to a wildfire incident, it will be necessary to provide updates by gathering specific intelligence related to topography, weather, fuel types and potential fire behaviour. It may be useful to include personnel with specialist wildfire knowledge within the command support team. These may be FRS personnel or members of the rural sector.

Summary and Examples of Wildfire Incident Command

8B7.97 This guidance has provided information on a number of subjects that will enhance ICS at wildfire incidents, these include:

  • The deployment of personnel in appropriately sized groupings reduces the number of crews deployed onto the fire ground, simplifying the lines of communication. In addition, larger groups can be more resilient allowing them to address many of their own safety and welfare issues. There is more tactical flexibility within a larger crew allowing crew leaders to adopt appropriate systems of work.
  • The LACES Protocol can be used to improve safety and can be utilised to address risk during firefighting operations.
  • The Wildfire Prediction System has many uses within Incident Command. It can be utilised at crew, sector or incident level by firefighters or fire officers. It can be used to improve safety or to assist in deciding what tactics will be effective.
  • Personnel who have the expertise to effectively use mapping, and who are supported by others who have the ability to navigate will prove to be invaluable at any spatial incident.
  • Situational awareness is a concept that can only be made a reality through effective communication. At wildfire incidents it is of critical importance that accurate and real-time information is relayed to all personnel. This should include effective information exchange spanning all levels within the ICS. Briefings play a critical part in this process and the information contained will depend on the complexity of the situation. Maintaining Situational awareness should be seen as a key outcome of an effective ICS.

Identification of Command Roles

8B7.98 At a large wildfire, attending personnel may deploy from a number of FRSs and partner agencies, and those personnel will be expected to work together seamlessly within the incident command structure. It is important that there is a common understanding of how the roles within the ICS are identified. This guidance uses the system depicted in the FRS ICS manual, but also suggests the introduction of some additional roles and how these may be identified on the incident ground.

8B7.99 Specialist Wildfire Officers - It is suggested that Specialist Wildfire Officers wear a red helmet, which allows them to be distinguished from other personnel on the fire ground without the use of a surcoat. These officers can be specialist FRS personnel or be individuals from partner agencies who have had equivalent training.

8B7.100 Tactical Lookouts - It is suggested that Tactical Lookouts wear a green surcoat with red shoulders.

In addition, there are a number of examples of patterns of uniform and surcoats which may assist in the management and command of a wildfire incident event. The diagrams are for illustration purposes only.

8B7.101 Rural Wildfire Specialist - It is suggested that personnel from the rural/land management sector are identified in a PPE or a Surcoat which clearly differentiates them from FRS personnel. In this example they are wearing red PPE. It should be noted that the Rural Wildfire Specialist also wears a red helmet to signify a more advanced level of knowledge and/or training that their peers and the ability to act as an advisor within the command team.

Identification of Incident and Sector Command Points

8B7.102 Due to the size and remoteness of some incidents it may be difficult to visually locate command points on the incident ground. Therefore it is important that the locations are marked on the incident map and this is cascaded to personnel in the form of a grid reference. In addition it is beneficial to use some form of visual indicator so that personnel can clearly identify their location.

8B7.103 To assist with the effective management of individual sectors, personnel should consider the establishment of 'zones' where relief crews, equipment and other logistical supplies can be conveniently located. Ideally these should be positioned close to but not at the same locations as the command points.

Where a large amount of equipment is provided by partner agencies, the logistical management of this should be given to the partners involved.For example, if the Forestry Commission (FC) is supporting FRS operational activity by providing heavy equipment and vegetation removal machinery, this should remain under the management of the FC. Nevertheless the operational activity of this equipment must remain under the supervision
of the FRS.

Fig. B7.5

Fig. B7.5

Examples of appropriate ICS structures

Fig. B7.6 Illustration showing 2, 4 and 5 pump incident

Fig. B7.6 Illustration showing 2, 4 and 5 pump incident

Fig. B7.6 shows three separate ICS structures that have been scaled to manage incidents of different levels of risk. The first is a 2 pump grass fire. As in all subsequent illustrations LACES has been instigated and Crew Commanders have taken on the role of Crew Lookouts.

In the second command structure where the incident is of higher risk it has been divided into two sectors. The Incident Commander has appointed a Tactical Lookout who is monitoring the situation in both sectors.

The third command structure shows a more complicated incident that has been divided into two sectors. Sector 1 has been given the responsibility for the tail part of the fire and sector 2 is responsible for the head part of the fire.

The flame lengths in sector 1 are of low risk, while the flame lengths within sector 2 are of moderate risk.

As a control measure the IC has appointed a Tactical Lookout to monitor the higher risk operational situation in sector 2.

The size of the team in sector 2 has also been increased to eight personnel simplifying lines of communication and improving its own resilience to manage safety and welfare issues.

Fig. B7.7 8 pump incident

Fig. B7.7 8 pump incident

In Fig B7.7 the command structure has been expanded to address a high level of risk on the fire ground.

A fire is burning in mixed fuel types resulting in frequent changes to fire behaviour in all sectors.

Due to the geographical size of the incident it has been necessary to appoint two Tactical Lookouts.

As an additional safety measure a Specialist Wildfire Officer has been appointed to the support the IC as a wildfire advisor.

In this illustration an Operations Commander has been appointed, two Tactical Lookouts have been put in place to monitor sectors 1, 2, and 4. Sector 3 is involved in mopping up operations at the tail part of the fire and is deemed to be low risk.

Fig. B7.8 12 pump incident with OPs commander

Fig. B7.8 12 pump incident with OPs commander

Additionally, due to a higher level of risk in sector 4, a Wildfire Specialist has been appointed as Sector Commander. The enlargement in the size of crews also reduces complexities within the lines of communication and command.

A small group of partners have been included in sector 4.

Fig. B7.9 15 pump incident with limited partnership support

Fig. B7.9 15 pump incident with limited partnership support

Fig B7.9 shows a representation of a larger incident where a FRS is unable to call upon any large scale assistance from the rural sector.

Fig. B7.10 15 pump incident with partnership support

Fig. B7.10 15 pump incident with partnership support

Fig. B7.10 demonstrates the value of partnership assistance at incidents that require large amounts of resource. The FRS commitment is 15 fire appliance crews, but additional provision from partners results in an attendance equivalent to 20 FRS crews.

An aircraft is being used in sector 2 and as a result an aerial support sector has been established to manage its operational activities.

In sector 4 vegetation clearance is being carried out by partners from the rural sector utilising heavy plant machinery.

The logistics sector support comprises FRS and rural sector personnel. The rural partners have specific responsibility for the mangement of non-FRS resources.

Sectorisation of Wildfire Incidents

8B7.104 Establishing effective command at a wildfire incident can often be difficult, the situation may be extremely complex for a number of reasons including:

  • The fire may cover a large geographical area stretching lines of communication and restricting the flow of risk critical information.
  • A wildfire may demonstrate diverse fire behaviour around its perimeter.
  • Changes in fuel, weather or topography may alter fire intensity or rate of spread.
  • Changes to fire behaviour can be rapid and significant which can place personnel
    at risk.
  • There may be substantial numbers of FRS and partner agency personnel active on the fire ground.
  • The incident is often still spreading and expanding outwards.

8B7.105 Due to the nature of wildfire, it is often advantageous to sectorise wildfire incidents. Lines of command and communication are thereby shortened, and Sector Commanders are more able to remain in contact with personnel that they have responsibility for.

8B7.106 They also have the advantage of managing a part of an incident rather than the whole; therefore they can address the dynamics of a 'local' operational situation and remain responsive to the need for tactical flexibility.

8B7.107 As with all incidents, sectorisation should only take place at a wildfire if it is necessary to do so. Nevertheless due to the complexities faced at this type of incident sectorisation on many occasions will be inevitable.

8B7.108 Although it is normal practise that sector 1 would be placed at the main scene of operations, this is often difficult to do at a wildfire incident due to changes in fire intensities around the fire perimeter. Nevertheless, sector 1 should be located in the area where most operational activities are anticipated to take place.

8B7.109 Sectorisation of a wildfire is complicated by the dynamics of the incident type. Spatially the incident is likely to expand, sometimes spreading over large areas so that it concludes a great distance from where the original subdivision took place.

8B7.110 The fact that a fire's perimeter or fire front may be expanding causes problems as to who takes on the responsibility of managing the additional parts.

8B7.111 In some countries sectors are defined by the parts of the wildfire, i.e. the head, flanks and tail. This system has a number of potential weaknesses as it is sometimes difficult to understand where one part of the fire begins and finishes, and where sector responsibility is set. Sectors based on fire behaviour can also become confusing if this behaviour changes, for example if the wind direction alters and a flank fire becomes the head fire.

8B7.112 Another method used is by reference to direction around the fire's perimeter, i.e. North, East, West and South sectors. Although a relatively simple concept, in practicality it can be difficult to determine and communicate where a sector's boundary is on the ground.

8B7.113 Setting fixed sector boundaries, at an incident where the outer perimeter of a fire is expanding, and at which a fire may change direction, rate of spread or intensity, is difficult. It is however essential that the method used gives a clear indication of the extent of the sector area, as only then can Sector Commanders be expected to understand the parts of the fire they have responsibility and control over.

8B7.114 At larger and more complex incidents, a solution can be found by not focusing attention on the fire, but on the surrounding landscape. By sectorising the land over which the fire must travel rather than the fire itself, sectors are based on a fixed space. This allows secure and unambiguous sector boundaries to be drawn that can remain in place for the duration of the incident.

8B7.115 Using an OS map a circle is drawn around the incident, this should be far enough away to take into account any future fire development; this can be used as the outer perimeter of the sectors. The circle can then be divided into sector areas, these should be based on expected fire behaviour and spread. For example if the fire has little potential on its tail and left flank then these can be combined into one sector. If the head fire is expected to expand and increase in intensity this can be divided into two sectors.

8B7.116 When setting boundary lines between sectors, it may be useful to use features of terrain that can be identified on the ground. Walls, fence lines, roads, streams, features of terrain can all be used as visual indicators showing sector boundaries to personnel on the fire ground. If these are not present then lines drawn between two points can simply be drawn on the map.

8B7.117 Signs can also be placed at key areas indicating which sector they are in, for example bridges and gates, on main routes could show a sector marker, especially where these are at a boundary between two sectors.

8B7.118 When using this system it is of the utmost importance that the sector boundaries are fully understood and that maps containing this information are issued to relevant personnel including crew supervisors on the fire ground.

8B7.119 The advantage of this system is that sector commanders have a clear indication as to their command area and that this will remain fixed. They can then take the appropriate measures necessary to contain the fire within their sector, ensuring that these plans are co-ordinated with those of adjoining sectors.

8B7.120 Although the fire situation may remain volatile, the fire dynamics do not have to impinge on the sector areas. If necessary as fire behaviour alters sectors can be added or closed down. ICs also have clarity with regards to who is responsible for each part of the landscape and the fire on it.

8B7.121 The following example shows how a wildfire may be sectored closely following the principles outlined within the Fire and Rescue Manual Volume 2 - Fire Service Operations - Incident Command.

Fig. B7.11 This illustration shows the point of ignition and the wind direction. The fire will align itself with the wind and the upslopes of the surrounding topography.

Fig. B7.11 This illustration shows the point of ignition and the wind direction. The fire will align itself with the wind and the upslopes of the surrounding topography.

Fig. B7.12 The fire has developed a strong head and its forward motion is upwards along the valley. The steep slopes either side provide alignment for lateral movement by both flanks.

Fig. B7.12 The fire has developed a strong head and its forward motion is upwards along the valley. The steep slopes either side provide alignment for lateral movement by both flanks.

Fig. B7.13 Taking into account the likely development of the fire in the future, a circle is drawn around the incident. In this particular example the diameter of the circle is about 2km. This circle represents a flexible outer control boundary in which sectorisation of the landscape can take place.

Fig. B7.13 Taking into account the likely development of the fire in the future, a circle is drawn around the incident. In this particular example the diameter of the circle is about 2km. This circle represents a flexible outer control boundary in which sectorisation of the landscape can take place.

Fig. B7.14 The landscape can now be sectored in a number of ways. This example shows that the fire has been divided into two sectors. Sector 1 covers the area in which the head part of the fire may expand into. Sector 2 covers the area in which the flanks and tail may develop.

Fig. B7.14 The landscape can now be sectored in a number of ways. This example shows that the fire has been divided into two sectors. Sector 1 covers the area in which the head part of the fire may expand into. Sector 2 covers the area in which the flanks and tail may develop.

Fig. B7.15 A second method is to use features on the landscape to identify sector boundaries. In this example the stream and the edge of the wood have been used as a visual method to divide the incident into three sectors.

Fig. B7.15 A second method is to use features on the landscape to identify sector boundaries. In this example the stream and the edge of the wood have been used as a visual method to divide the incident into three sectors.

Fig. B7.16 In this example the fire has been divided into four sectors so that each sector covers a smaller area of the landscape

Fig. B7.16 In this example the fire has been divided into four sectors so that each sector covers a smaller area of the landscape

Fig. 7.17 This illustration shows that although the fire is expanding, the sector arrangement accounts for this spatial enlargement and remains the same.

Fig. 7.17 This illustration shows that although the fire is expanding, the sector arrangement accounts for this spatial enlargement and remains the same.

Fig. 7.18 Further sectorisation can take place if the situation demands it. In this instance, the head part of the fire in sector 3 is expanding rapidly. With the introduction of sector 5 this part of the fire has been sub-divided so that it can be more effectively managed.

Fig. 7.18 Further sectorisation can take place if the situation demands it. In this instance, the head part of the fire in sector 3 is expanding rapidly. With the introduction of sector 5 this part of the fire has been sub-divided so that it can be more effectively managed.

Fig. 7.19 As the fire expands the outer perimeter of the control area can be enlarged to cover a greater part of the landscape.

Fig. 7.19 As the fire expands the outer perimeter of the control area can be enlarged to cover a greater part of the landscape.

8B7 Key Considerations

  • The adoption of the LACES safety protocol will assist in the mitigation of many wildfire hazards.
  • All personnel at a wildfire incident should have an understanding of the LACES safety protocol.
  • Tactical Lookouts can play an important role in maintaining situational awareness by providing real time information to commanders and operational personnel.
  • All personnel must know their escape route(s) and the location of their safety zone.
  • The safety zone should allow personnel to be able to remain a minimum of 4x the flame length away from the fire.
  • Escape routes should be as short and straightforward as possible.
  • The Wildfire Prediction System can be used as an effective risk management tool.
  • At large incidents it may be useful if the size of crews is enlarged, this will reduce the total number of teams committed onto the fire ground and simplify management and communication issues.
  • Comprehensive briefings using the SMEAC methodology should be given to everyone before deployment and updates should be given at appropriate times throughout an incident.
  • Individuals must maintain an accurate understanding of their operational environment
    at all times.
  • FRSs should consider the significant benefits of incorporating partners from land management agencies as advisors within the incident command structure.
  • Land management partners can provide valuable practical support to firefighting operations whilst under the supervision and command of FRS personnel.


Email: Dean Cowper

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