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Pre-Incident Planning: Case Studies


When you arrive onscene, which is worse - having absolutely no information when you need it, or having the wrong information? Correct - both are equally bad - really really bad!  Yet, most fire departments report either having out-dated preplans, or no preplans at all.  


There is so much to learn from our collective history. Below are just a few incidents that could have had different outcomes, if command or crews (or incoming AID departments) had access to current/accurate preplan information. Infinite Command easily exceeds NFPA 1620 standards for preplanning, but the real innovation is what it does with the information while you're enroute and onscene. There's no doubt about it - smarter firefighters are safer firefighters.  Let Infinite Command empower your crews today!



Prevent incidents with it, Manage with it, Plan with it, Train with it, Command with it - Live with it.



Fire Fighter Killed by Exterior Wall Collapse during Defensive Operations at a Commercial Structure Fire  - NIOSH Report (Concise Summary) F2011-15 Date Released: December 6, 2011

Full Report:

On June 17, 2011, a 22-year-old male paid-on-call fire fighter received fatal injuries when he was struck by bricks and falling debris during an exterior wall collapse at a commercial structure fire. Crews worked using defensive operations for about 45 minutes attempting to extinguish the fire in the 96 year-old brick and masonry structure that housed an antique store with living quarters located in a rear addition. The victim and another fire fighter were moving a 35-foot aluminum ground ladder away from the Side D (east) wall of the structure when the top part of the exterior wall collapsed. No other fire fighters were injured in the collapse.

Recommendation #7: Fire departments should conduct pre-incident planning inspections of buildings within their jurisdictions to facilitate development of safe fireground strategies and tactics.

In this incident, pre-planning the structure could have identified the potential collapse hazards associated with the structure due to the age and type of construction, the presence of the star-shaped anchor plates on the exterior walls, and the high fuel load present.  Physical elements and site considerations, occupant considerations, protection systems and water supplies, hydrant locations, and special hazard considerations. Building characteristics including type of construction, materials used, occupancy, fuel load, roof and floor design, and unusual or distinguishing characteristics should be recorded, shared with other departments who provide mutual aid.  It is noted that the Fire Department A had an unwritten policy that any fires in the older commercial structures within the city would be fought defensively.


Career Fire Fighter Seriously Injured from Collapse of Bowstring Truss Roof   - NIOSH Report (Concise Summary) F2009-21 Date Released: December 1, 2010

Full Report:

On May 21, 2009, a 36-year-old male career fire fighter was seriously injured while operating in a non-designated collapse zone of a commercial structure when an overhang of a bowstring truss roof system collapsed and struck him. The first arriving company officer reported a working fire in a single story Type II warehouse. The officer looked under a steel roll-up door that was raised approximately three feet off of the ground and saw heavy fire towards the rear of the structure from floor to ceiling. Per department procedures, the first arriving companies went into a “Fast Attack” mode. Crews attempted but were unable to enter the structure because the steel roll-up door wasn’t functioning and the man door was heavily secured. The department’s Deputy Chief arrived on the scene 9 minutes after the initial crew and determined that the fire should be fought defensively, however, this command was not relayed over the radio or verified with all crews. A crew was operating a 2 ½-inch handline just outside the structure approximately 20 minutes after the first apparatus arrived when the overhang collapsed and trapped the nozzleman. Key contributing factors identified in this investigation include: scene management and risk analysis, a well-involved fire in a structure with hazardous construction features, and fire fighters operating within a potential collapse area.

In this incident, the presence of the bowstring truss presented an elevated life safety consideration in the event of a fire. A thorough building inspection and pre-incident plan for a single-story, bowstring truss occupancy in this area could have potentially identified the hazards typically associated with this type of construction such as: ceiling voids, fuel loads, non-permitted renovations, roof construction, HVAC location, and exit locations. Evaluating the construction features and layout of the structure allows the fire department the opportunity to determine a response protocol for the specific identified hazards and to develop fireground strategies and tactics (ventilation strategies, avenues of fire spread, proper attack line selection, etc.) before an incident occurs. The construction features of occupancy (bowstring truss), possible commercial fuel loads and access restrictions suggested large volumes of water would be necessary to fight a major fire at the site. A more complete pre-planning process, involving individual fire companies within their response territory could have noted this information which may have aided the IC in developing a safer and more effective offensive or defensive strategy. In order to facilitate open communication, fire department personnel and building code officials should be cross-trained on each-others’ duties and responsibilities. Fire fighters should have a basic understanding of what a code violation is and how to report them during a pre-plan, and building code inspectors should have a basic understanding of fire fighter safety issues during their inspections. The relay of this information could be used to facilitate dynamic risk management and enhanced command and control.


Two Career Fire Fighters Die and Captain is Burned When Trapped during Fire Suppression Operations at a Millwork Facility  - NIOSH Report (Concise Summary) F2008-07 Date Released: August 7, 2009

Full Report:

On March 7, 2008, two male career fire fighters, aged 40 and 19 (Victims #1 and #2 respectively) were killed when they were trapped by rapidly deteriorating fire conditions inside a millwork facility in North Carolina. The captain of the hoseline crew was also injured, receiving serious burn injuries. The victims were members of a crew of four fire fighters operating a hoseline protecting a firewall in an attempt to contain the fire to the burning office area and keep it from spreading into the production and warehouse areas. The captain attempted to radio for assistance as the conditions deteriorated but fire fighters on the outside did not initially hear his Mayday. Once it was realized that the crew was in trouble, multiple rescue attempts were made into the burning warehouse in an effort to reach the trapped crew as conditions deteriorated further. Three members of a rapid intervention team (RIT) were hurt rescuing the injured captain. Victim #1 was located and removed during the fifth rescue attempt. Victim #2 could not be reached until the fire was brought under control. The fourth crew member had safely exited the burning warehouse prior to the deteriorating conditions that trapped his fellow crew members. Key contributing factors identified in this investigation include radio communication problems (unintelligible transmissions in and out of the fire structure that may have led to misunderstanding of operational fireground communications), inadequate size up and incomplete pre-plan information, a deep-seated fire burning within the floor of the office area that was able to spread into the production and warehouse facility, the procedures used in which operational modes were repeatedly changed from offensive to defensive, lack of crew integrity at a critical moment in the event, and weather which restricted fireground visibility.

Recommendation #1: Fire departments should ensure that detailed pre-incident plan information is collected and available when needed, especially in high risk structures.

In this incident, arriving crews concentrated on the A and B-sides of the structure. The Incident Commander arrived on-scene, assumed command, established a stationary command post, obtained interior condition reports from company officers, and designated sector officers and an Operations Chief early into the incident. Pre-plan information was available and utilized by the fire department early into the incident as well. However, the pre-plan form did not contain detailed construction information or an accurate floor plan for the facility. Attempts were made to contain the fire to the office area but the deep-seated fire proved difficult to extinguish as the seat of the fire could not be reached. Masonry walls dividing the office area and separating the office area from the rest of the facility were thought to be fire walls and efforts were made to protect these walls. However, the firewalls and accurate locations of openings were not clearly identified on the pre-plan drawing.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1620 Recommended Practice for Pre-Incident Planning, 2003 Edition, § 4.4.1 states “the pre-incident plan should be the foundation for decision making during an emergency situation and provides important data that will assist the Incident Commander in developing appropriate strategies and tactics for managing the incident.” This standard also states that “the primary purpose of a pre-incident plan is to help responding personnel effectively manage emergencies with available resources. Pre-incident planning involves evaluating the protection systems, building construction, contents, and operating procedures that can impact emergency operations.  A pre-incident plan identifies deviations from normal operations and can be complex and formal, or simply a notation about a particular problem such as the presence of flammable liquids, explosive hazards, modifications to structural building components, or structural damage from a previous fire. 

In addition, NFPA 1620 outlines the steps involved in developing, maintaining, and using a preincident plan by breaking the incident down into pre-, during- and post-incident phases. In the preincident phase, for example, it covers factors such as physical elements and site considerations, occupant considerations, protection systems and water supplies, hydrant locations, and special hazard considerations. Building characteristics including type of construction, materials used, occupancy, fuel load, roof and floor design, and unusual or distinguishing characteristics should be recorded, shared with other departments who provide mutual aid, and if possible, entered into the dispatcher’s computer so that the information is readily available if an incident is reported at the noted address. Since many fire departments have tens and hundreds of thousands of structures within their jurisdiction, making it impossible to pre-plan them all, priority should be given to those having elevated or unusual fire hazards and life safety considerations. The structure involved in this incident was known to have a heavy fuel load and the fire department had conducted several pre-plan inspections in the past. If possible, fire departments should obtain engineering drawings or detailed floor plans to be made part of the pre-plan record. 



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