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Abbreviated ICS, the system that most firefighters and other emergency operations use to manage an emergency. This can range from a forest fire, earthquake, flood, to an oil spill or a search and rescue. The system is a cross between a paramilitary organization and a pyramid structure, but it has some key elements that make it work both efficiently and quickly.

The first is that it trains everyone in a common set of terminology and job responsibility. An Operations Section Leader has more or less a similar job, whether fire or flood or a rain of toads. If you are in Florida and order a Dispatcher, you know exactly what the skills of the person sent will be.

It is extremely hierarchical in nature. There's a Boss (usually a guy) who is an Incident Commander ICT1. He runs the whole shitorama, and in forest type firefighting comes in two flavors, Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 is a guy, who arrives with an Incident Command Team of 21 people, who can manage a BIG fire, think Yellowstone in 1987 or the Wenatchee National Forest in 1994. Or Southern California, circa 2004. (Although thats the urban/rural interface, which is a whole 'nuther ball of wax). A Type 2 IC manages smaller stuff, your run of the mill local fire that doesn't hit national news.

There are masses of other positions, all named, all with a clear role and responsibility. A fire camp can go from an empty meadow to a booming town of 3,000 in 48 hours, and it has the works. Showers, (in a trailer), a catering kitchen, (sometimes contract, sometimes convicts. I've been on a fire where most everyone else was a convict, a weird fire, but the cooks sure gave me big helpings.) an equipment cache...equipment drivers, smokejumpers, lots of tents, sometimes even a recreation tent, with a video tape playing stupid movies.

What it is NOT.
A system based on consensus. If the top guy says "go here", there's not a lot of discussion, especially among the ground troops, about whether or not it's a good idea. As a firefighter, if I wasn't feeling safe, I would let my Crew Boss know, but he reported it to his Strike Team Leader, STL to the Operations Section Chief, the OSC to the leader, maybe. This is very efficient for making things happen quickly, but not so good for integrating a lot of different points of view.

This is the beginning of a series of nodes about interconnected Everything, Kansas nodes and weird firefighting nodes, intended to answer some ongoing questions about that scary great plains town.

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