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Taking charge in major incidences
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Over the years, the services provided by both the fire and police departments have grown much more complex, technical and in some ways more dangerous. Public safety command staff must have a great amount of information and equipment immediately available to them when assigned to managing major events like fires, multi-vehicle collisions, hazmat situations, active shooter situations, violent criminal searches, serving high-risk arrest or search warrants, dealing with hostages, persons threatening to kill themselves or any other kind of situation requiring multiple safety personnel and equipment resources.

Typically, when a high risk situation develops, the on duty police watch commander or fire department battalion chief takes control of the scene and are typically referred to as "incident commanders." They have to conduct an immediate assessment of the situation in effort to determine if there are injured parties, whether criminal threats are present, what persons or property may be threatened and what personnel and equipment resources are required to safely resolve the situation. These incident commanders' highest priority is to ensure that the safety workers remain safe such that they can carry out their rescue and life/property protection duties. Safety personnel are unable to save lives if they get injured and themselves become one of the incident's victims.

When a residential fire breaks out, for example, the fire battalion chief has to quickly decide if the city has enough personnel and equipment resources to deal with the event. If not, they must request mutual aid from neighboring agencies. The incident command center (which generally comprises the back portion of the SUV assigned to the incident commander) contains multiple radios, cell phones, and [possibly] a satellite phone to allow communications with the various agencies involved. Some of these vehicles are also equipped with video monitoring and transmitting capabilities. There is at least one computer that allows access to infrastructure data banks (like utilities, local maps, etc.), phone lists, on-call personnel lists, procedural checklists, notification lists (for the agency chief and council members and other stakeholders) and other critical information that may be required to properly manage the situation.

The incident command vehicle contains personal safety gear and an erasable "command board" used for tracking personnel and equipment resources. The SUV rear door allows access to all of the aforementioned equipment and information, and it is also the location where key personnel gather to assist with the scene management. The SUV rear portion also helps protect the incident commander from rain or the sun, and inside that area there is lighting for nighttime operations.

The incident commander has enormous responsibilities and with the right training, experience and equipment, that person can contribute greatly to achieving the best possible outcome of any given emergency, calamity or major criminal event. The next time you see one of these incident commanders in action, you can be assured that they are usually doing multiple tasks simultaneously, that they are under great pressure to perform during extreme conditions, and that they are the best of the best. I admire these professionals for the work that they do and they deserve all due respect and appreciation.