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Company Officer Leadership: Are You Prepared to Handle Any Response?

A toxic chlorine leak has occurred at the local chemical company. A tornado has just touched down in the residential area of your jurisdiction. The water is predicted to rise into the downtown area of the city.

Are you prepared? Who will you call? What will you do as the first arriving officer?

Departments Transition to All-hazards

While many of our departments have struggled to provide the most basic fire and EMS services to the community due to the economic climate, the expectation of the community still remains that if someone calls, we will arrive and handle the emergency, no matter the cause.

In the past three decades, the fire department has transitioned from a fire-response agency to an all-hazards response entity. The evolution of disaster response and planning in the fire department has formalized and the community has voiced, as noted in recent disasters, their displeasure at the emergency services being ill prepared.

Just the Tip of the Spear

Although the fire department, specifically the company officer, will generally be the first to arrive to any type of disaster, our organization is just the beginning of a coordinated collaboration of governmental and nongovernmental services. Often, other agencies, such as the police department, street department and the Red Cross, are needed to provide the correct resources.

Developing a guide for your community and neighboring communities that lists available resources and contact personnel and numbers is a great way to investigate the resources available.

Many Levels of Government

One of the greatest differences between a disaster and regular incidents is the levels of government involved. Many disasters involve not only the local government resources, but also county, state and federal government. One of the best resources locally to connect with to understand the process of the progression of a disaster through the levels of government is the local emergency management agency.

Use of NIMS

Another key difference in disasters is the number of personnel and the size of the management system needed to manage them. Utilization of unified command structures that incorporate all of the jurisdictions or organizations will ensure that everyone operates within the same plan and ensures resources aren't competing against each other. The initial company or command officer may find command mode as the preferred method of operation, which can allow a full size-up of a large incident. The goal in the first hours of a disaster is to do the most good for the most number of people.

Build Relationships Early and Often

The best thing a company officer—or any officer who'll plan for response activities related to disasters—can do is to collaborate and network with other response and governmental agencies. Just having informal conversations can build the friendships and expectations that need to occur before an incident happens.

"Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance"

Many of us have heard the Five Ps in this section's title; the maxim holds true in a disaster. Investigating resources and relationships, writing formal plans and exercising with all the players likely to attend your next disaster is the only way a department can prepare for the next big event. The public has set the expectation; we must be ready to meet their needs.

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