Incident Command: A Faith Based Perspective

The Fire Service is made up of a diverse group of individuals who come from various backgrounds, religions, races, and environments. We are as different as they come when you look at us from an outsider’s perspective. What is it that ties us all together? What is the common bond? A common trait if you will? 

If you want to see an example of how the world’s problems can be solved, watch a group of firefighters perform during an emergency. They function together, under a central command, working towards a common goal without haggling over the details. To quote Chief Alan Brunacini “Done beats perfect”. We work towards a control time, stopping the forward progress of the incident, and bringing back a sense of normalcy to a chaotic event in other’s lives.  We don’t focus on our differences, our issues (God knows we have them!), or whether or not we like the company we are working with. We get it done for the sake of our safety, our citizens, and our inner drive to make a difference. 

Why this happens:  Standing on Common Ground

We function under the Incident Command System (ICS). We arrive at an emergency and plant our flag in the ground defining the beginning of the end of this incident. The first arriving officer stakes their claim by examining the situation (size-up), formulating a strategy (IAP), and continually evaluating the critical fire ground factors, conditions, and progress of the incident as he/she implements the tactics with the resources requested for their incident.  This plan is executed through branches, groups, divisions, strike teams, etc and is expanded as needed depending on the size and complexity of the incident. It is “pre thought out battle plan” if you will that allows IC the freedom of safely applying an Incident Action Plan within a framework that all the team players are well versed in.

When we go to battle: We put on our Armor (See Ephesians 6:11-13)

Every firefighter who is well trained knows the value and importance of their personal protective equipment (PPE). From wearing our nit rile gloves on an EMS call to protect us from bio-hazards during the delivery of patient care to a fully dressed out firefighter in turn-out gear, SCBA, and carrying the necessary equipment for the job; we understand that if we are going to be effective we must “dress for the party”.  A symbol for strong faith, especially during times of adversity and stress in the Bible is Armor.  “Put on the full armor of God so that you take your stand against the devil’s schemes…Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand (Ephesians6:11, 13).”  We must understand, as brothers in sisters in the fire service, that if our hearts are not protected with the “full armor of God” that no matter how well trained/dressed we may appear we are actually fragile and helpless on the inside.

Every firefighter faces insurmountable challenges with the knowledge that they are: well trained, well equipped, and will function under a common framework (ICS).  This gives us confidence that, no matter the task, we will strive to positively influence the situation and leave it better than we found it.  We understand Situational Awareness which is being aware of what is happening around you to understand how information, events, and you own actions will impact your goals and objectives, both now and in the near future (Preventing the Mayday by FDNY).  Facing challenges in life can negatively impact our heart and our passion for life in general.  We, the well trained & well protected, are often the most vulnerable to pain, tragedy, and loss.  Too many firefighters suffer silently for years without speaking of their pain. The signs of such suffering are too obvious in our trade: high divorce rate, alcoholism & drug use, PTSD, are just a few of the “side effects” of our personal pain.

In an incident, we address the situation from a CAN report (conditions, actions, & needs). We state the conditions upon arrival (size-up), we determine our plan of attack (offensive, defensive, and the specifics of each mode of attack), and we state the needs that we require to achieve this goal such as requesting a second alarm. In my station we have a motto “I’d rather be looking at it than looking for it”.  We call for help early so when we need them, they are already there. Any emergency is difficult for those involved otherwise they wouldn’t call for help.  Why is it that as first responders we don’t apply this own approach to our own lives in moments of crisis?

The Call for Help:

When the moment strikes: a child stops breathing, you awake to find your home filled with smoke, you are struck by another vehicle and your are trapped inside your own car, or your loved one suddenly collapses at your side…What do you do?  You call for help. You don’t wait. You don’t worry about what others will think. Your need is immediate, your heart is on your sleeve, your world is falling apart before you so modesty is the last thing you are concerned about. This is a reactive state of mind. We as firefighters are so well trained to be proactive and function calmly in the face of chaos that I believe it is our own worst enemy when it comes to personal problems. How many firefighters have you heard about that ended up divorced, committed suicide, had a substance abuse problem and the response was “I never knew they had a problem”.  The answer lies within our own profession, we don’t want to call for help, and our pride is our greatest demon.  One of my favorite passages of scripture is Isaiah 65:24. “Before they call, I will answer. While they are yet speaking, I will hear.” God stands at the ready and has already laid out your rescue plan. Will you call upon His name?


As firefighters we address the situation appropriately with our training, experience, knowledge, skills, and abilities. We are tenacious and believe that we can take an 1 ¾ line into hell and put it out. This attitude is of arrogance plus ignorance has equated to the loss of lives, marriages, health, and careers.  We must practice what we preach at work and at home.  We all need help sometimes. We respond to million dollar homes and impoverished communities for the same reason: they need help!  Our titles, ego’s, and pride get in the way of asking for help. Do not let your life “burn down around you”, and then call for help at the last moment as the cavalry to arrive at an “un-savable property”.  Your conditions, actions, and needs report can be applied to your own situation. You have been given the training, the tools, and the resources to do the job.

Now is when you need the Holy Spirit to fill you, equip you, and comfort you. God’s word promises “I will never leave you nor forsake you-Hebrews 13:5”.  Put down your pride and find a brother/sister that you can talk with. I want you to understand the value of fellowship. We are not meant to be alone “It is not good for man to be alone. Genesis “.  Our God is a God of comfort, “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God-2 Corinthians 1:3-4.”

There is no Testimony without the test:

Coming along side another who is hurting takes one of understanding. It requires empathy over sympathy for the injured party to confide/open up to you.  The moment of adversity, tragedy, or conflict that you face is not solved by another who can come along side you. It is eased by the comfort of those who have faced this before. Anyone who is married understands that if your wife comes to you with a problem, most of the time she doesn’t want you to solve it; she wants you to listen to her and show that you care. We as firefighters, come along side others in their moment of crisis with a unique perspective. We have probably seen it, been through it, or experienced this moment in a variety of ways: personally, professionally, or from a support role.  We are the “hands and feet of Jesus” in a world that doesn’t care about others. We show up and help our “neighbors”.  Thus this principle and innate drive to serve should compel us to help our brothers and sisters who are struggling. If you are drowning, call for a life line and if you see someone who is drowning, throw them a rope. 

Reading the Smoke:

We have to practice the principles of Situational Awareness in our own fire stations and lives. We must be vigilant to cues/signs of a co-worker who is struggling. If you are driving back to the station from a call and see a house on fire you don’t keep driving; you take action and go to work.  We can apply the same principles of reading smoke to reading our co-workers. We learn that in reading smoke that turbulent smoke is indicative of high heat, high pressure/velocity that can lead to thermal insult quickly. If you are around a co-worker who has signs of turbulent behavior, it shouldn’t surprise you when you hear of some tragic circumstance later. We are taught to read the building, read the smoke, understand critical fire ground factors, and to continuously monitor conditions as you apply your strategy and tactics.  This same concept can apply to your co-workers and family.  You are the best judge of your family’s health because you know them better than anyone else. If you see signs of instability, withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, making unsafe or dangerous decisions, then you should speak up.  Don’t crawl past fire! Put it out. Take your loved one or co-worker aside and tell them that you care.

Getting back in service:

After a fire is over, we go through the salvage and overhaul process. We try to save what we can of the resident’s belongings and we work to make sure there aren’t any hidden fires that will cause a rekindle.  In our lives we must understand that no matter how damaging or difficult a situation may be we can get through it. 26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26).  Salvaging what’s left of your life may be a bad analogy but think of it this way: In a fire, the resident who seems to have lost everything but then you emerge with their family photo album, a family heirloom, or some irreplaceable item that has great sentimental value.  The building may be lost but the lives that sustain it survive. Because of the hope that sustains them they rebuild and start over. In our lives, we can do the same. We can salvage what is left. We go to God with a “broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:7) and He will “give us rest” (Matthew 11:28-29).  Coming along side your brothers, sisters, or family members and helping them “Carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) will be the greatest save you ever make. Apply the skills, concepts, and education that you have worked so hard for to your heart and those around you. They can and will save your life.

As we overhaul, we all know the danger of a hidden fire. In life, if we leave a situation unresolved or we don’t properly deal with it, it will ‘rekindle’ and as in a fire it will cause much greater damage the second time.  Overhaul is tough work, it isn’t the fun and adrenaline filled experience that you had upon the initial attack of the fire. In life, overhauling your problem will be even tougher work. You must get to the ‘seat of the fire’ and remove any charred remains/embers that could cause you further pain later.

It is difficult to stop certain behaviors. It costs us greatly and we often lose relationships over it. Many of my friends don’t look at me the same any more. They know how I “used to be” and think that my new life is false. I can only speak of my own walk, when I say this.  Making a change for the better is difficult but in the end it is the best decision you will ever make.  I rededicated my life at the 30 years old. I had the epiphany that I couldn’t continue with the choices, behaviors, and lifestyle that I was leading. My friends, it is only by the grace of God and through the fellowship of believers that I am where I am today. My wife is my greatest blessing next to my Lord and Savior. She has helped me grow as a man and a Christian. Because of our walk together, God changed our heart and allowed us to have a child. Our daughter, Emma, is a living miracle. Each day that I get to spend with them is precious and nothing in my “old life” is worth what the present and future holds for me in Christ.  Overhauling your life isn’t something you do alone. As on a fire scene, it takes a crew of hard working firefighters to get the job done; so as in life you will need those who can come along side of you and share your load. May God bless you and direct your paths.

Stay safe & God Bless,

Andy J. Starnes


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