I recently had the opportunity to conduct some emergency training in Africa. I had conducted training with this group once before, instructing a collapse course in South Africa with a touch of firefighter rescue thrown in; although the main focus of their training is generally the management of major incidents.

The USDA Forest Service (USFS) along with USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has conducted this training in several African countries since 2009.  Initially the program was primarily focused on fighting forest fires. However as the program has evolved it has expanded to an all-hazard approach and is focusing on All Hazard National Incident Management System (NIMS) rather than only the Incident Command Systems (ICS).  

The FDNY and the USFS had worked extensively together during operations following the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC), with the USFS assisting with incident management. This was to be the first time that the FDNY used all aspects of the ICS.

To show the adaptability of the ICS to grow or shrink with the incidents, during the first 13 minutes after the first plane hit the WTC the incident went through four incident commanders. This started with the first arriving Battalion Chief and ended with the Chief of Department. These changes of command were conducted seamlessly with no interruption to operations. This command structure was later destroyed when the towers fell and was rebuilt again. These operations began a long term connection between the FDNY and the USFS. 

The African training mission this time involved both ICS and NIMS. The USFS has a long standing relationship with several countries in Africa. Most of this involved training their emergency management leadership in ICS. Over the years that they have conducted this training the USFS has developed an informal partnership with the FDNY.

While the participation of its members is not an official FDNY function, the USFS hires individual FDNY members through a contractor. The USFS has an exceptional expertise in ICS; working on long term operations that cover vast areas and multiple jurisdictions. While the majority of FDNY operations would not come close in geographic area or duration to operations of the scope encountered by the USFS; by including FDNY members the students can be exposed to a slightly different take on the material. This take can be from the perspective of urban fire operations or other incidents such as hurricanes or earthquakes.

On this trip instructors initially met up in Johannesburg, South Africa to formulate a plan and then split up into teams covering various ICS topics in various areas of South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana. I conducted Logistics Section Chief training in Cape Town, South Africa, and Namibia.  I was also pulled out of class to conduct a brief training session for Diplomatic Security personnel and Marines from the US Embassy to Namibia. They wanted a session on collapse rescue and fires.  Fires have been of particular concern to those that protect our interest overseas since the tragedy in Benghazi. 

The widespread adaptation of the ICS is due to the fact that it provides a consistent approach to managing emergencies, providing a command structure that can be utilized to assimilate multiple agencies and other assets into an effective response to the emergency at hand.

This framework provides for the integration of the varied resources that are required at such events. This can include such varied resources as: fire, law enforcement and medical personnel; industry; air assets; truck drivers and heavy equipment operators; and food and Portosan vendors. While the ICS was initially established to fight forest fires it has evolved into an all-hazards management system.

This morphing occurred in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.  In response to this the National Incident Management System (NIMS) was formed, with an all-hazards approach in mind, of which the ICS is a component.

The scalability and adaptability of ICS and NIMS make it very useful to industry. Industrial incidents can range from a small spill of hazardous materials to major fires involving a large portion of a multi acre facility. They can also be caused by outside influences such as earthquakes and hurricanes which can involve even greater areas and jurisdictions. 

One of the techniques that we used to enhance our training value was to modify the standard presentations and exercises to more accurately reflect the emergencies, circumstances, and organizations that were likely to be encountered by the target audience. This is done while still relaying the basic content of the individuals modules. The particular course that I was teaching was Logistics Section Chief.

Part of this course is learning how to plan and set up your Base of Operations (BOO). This course was conducted in a facility that was a combination headquarters, fire station and fire academy which also made it a likely location of a BOO in the event of a major incident. Instead of a hypothetical example we were able to use schematics and walk around the facility and actually plan how they would set up the BOO in the event of such an incident.  

Another technique that was used to get the most out of the class was to assign pre-work. A large amount of material for ICS and NIMS is available for free online. This includes books, audio-visual, testing and certificates. Some of the courses that were assigned were the FEMA E-Learning Introduction to ICS (I-100), and Single Resource Initial Action ICS (I-200). This allowed us to obtain a higher level of training in the allotted time. 

Training in these topics will enable industry to work together with government, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector to respond effectively to emergencies of any scale.

James Kiesling is the Captain of Squad 1 of the Fire Department, City of New York’s Special Operations Command.  He holds as AOS in fire protection technology from Corning Community College, a BS in fire and emergency services from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an MA in homeland security and defense from the Naval Postgraduate School.