Theoretical Foundations of Incident Command: Thinking


Textbook information will be available about a month before the Fall 2020 term start date.

Course description

This course is designed for fire officers who have experienced incident command. It introduces research and theory developed over the last 20 years that attempts to explain how the size up is conducted through recognition primed decision making. Also studied are high reliability organizations that respond to high stress emergency, and Normal Accident Theory. This research helps to understand incident command, training for incident command, and helps to develop a professionalized fire service.

Unit One: NDM and RPD

How commanders should and do think are not necessarily the same. Moreover how executives think in an office and commanders think at an EOC or at the emergency scene are not necessarily the same either.
The learning objective of this unit it to gain an appreciation for the distinction between classical decision making and naturalists decision making, (NDM).

Unit Two: Converting Training into Experience

If experience leading to reflection on that experience is the best teacher, what do we do when experience dries up owing to effective prevention measures? One answer is to encourage realistic training that substitutes for part of that experience. Another answer is that, if you can’t move the fire to the commander’s community, move the commander to the fire…in another community.
The learning objective of this unit is to:
To gain an appreciation for the effect of skills atrophy.
To relate that skills atrophy to command skill atrophy.

Unit Three: NAT and HRO

The basic research that underlies much of the thinking on incident command starts with theory on disasters, specifically Natural Accident Theory (NAT). That theory is complimented by the study of organizations that prevent accidents and respond to those accidents that weren’t prevented. These are high reliability organizations (HROs).

Unit Four: The Consequences of Theory on the Profession

Whether the fire service can withstand a sometimes ignorant and sometimes indifferent environment partly depends on whether incident command can be a profession. Whether incident command becomes a profession within the fire service depends on whether a body of knowledge can be developed and whether that knowledge can be transmitted to make an educated incident commander.

Course author

John Benoit, Ph.D.
John Benoit has been an applied sociologist, employing social science research to fire service administration. He obtained his PhD in sociology from the Johns Hopkins University in 1975, writing a dissertation on the effect of information flow on risk taking. He had worked at Dalhousie for 24 years, spending the last 20 as Director, Fire Management Education. During this time he wrote and co-wrote several of the courses, editing others. His principal areas of expertise include fire department-municipal government relations, the volunteer fire service, some aspects of personnel management, and theoretical perspectives on emergency management. In addition to course development, he has conducted research and published in the areas of volunteer fire administration, and disaster management. John recently retired and is now examining the effect of rural volunteer fire departments on the local community, and the impact of courageous experience and social capital on local economic development.