USFS Fire Suppression: Foundational Doctrine
The Future of Fire Service Training and Education
USMC Doctrine: Warfighting
Purpose of Fire Suppression Doctrine
Fire suppression doctrine covers our fundamental beliefs on the subject
of fire suppression. Doctrine establishes a particular way of thinking
about fire suppression. It provides a philosophy for leading fire fighters
in suppression operations, a mandate forprofessionalism, and a common
language. Fire suppression doctrine does not consist of procedures to
be applied to specific situations so much as it sets forth general guidance
that requires judgment in application. Therefore, while authoritative,
doctrine is not prescriptive. Doctrine is about tools, not rules.
The Nature of Fire Suppression
Fire is a complex, dynamic, and often unpredictable phenomenon. Fire
suppression requires mobilizing a complex organization that includes management,
and fire suppression personnel, as well as airplanes, vehicles, machinery,
and communications equipment. While the magnitude and complexity of the
fire itself and of the human suppression response to it will vary, the
fact that fire suppression operations are inherently dangerous will never
change. A fire fighter using the best available science, equipment, and
training, and working within the scope of agency doctrine and policy,
can still suffer serious injury or death. Any doctrine or policy that
neglects this basic truth is incomplete.
Fire Suppression Preparedness Philosophy
Fire suppression preparedness is the result of activities that are planned
and implemented prior to fire ignitions. Preparedness is a continuous
process that includes developing and maintaining fire suppression infrastructure,
predicting fire activity, identifying values at risk, hiring, training
(interagency drills & scenarios), equipping, pre-positioning, and
deploying fire fighters and equipment, evaluating performance, correcting
deficiencies, and improving operations. Preparedness provides the basis
for identifying required fire suppression capabilities and implementing
coordinated programs to develop those capabilities. All preparedness activities
should be focused on developing these capabilities and successful suppression
As the hardware of wildland fire suppression improves through technological
development, so must the tactical, operational, and strategic usage adapt
to its improved capabilities to maximize our own capabilities. Standardization
should be considered and implemented where appropriate, but not at the
expense of innovation.
Fire Suppression Philosophy
Fires are easier and less expensive to suppress when they are smaller.
When the management goal is full suppression, aggressive attack is the
single most important method to ensure the safety of fire fighters and
the public and to limit suppression costs. When the management goal is
other than full suppression, or when conditions dictate a limited suppression
response, decisiveness is still essential but a less aggressive attack
is acceptable. Aggressive attack provides the Incident Commander maximum
flexibility in suppression operations. Successful attack relies on speed
and appropriate force. All aspects of fire suppression benefit from this
philosophy. Planning, organizing, and implementing fire suppression operations
should always meet the objective of directly, quickly, and economically
contributing to the suppression effort. Every fire fighter, whether in
a management, command, support, or direct suppression role, should be
committed to maximizing the speed and efficiency with which the most capable
fire fighters can engage in suppression action.
Fire Suppression Command Philosophy
It is essential that our philosophy of command supports the way we fight
fire. First and foremost, in order to generate effective decision making
on the fire line and to cope with the unpredictable nature of fire, command
and control must be decentralized. That is, subordinate commanders must
make decisions on their own initiative, based on their understanding of
their leader’s intent, coordinated efforts, and operational objectives.
Further, a competent subordinate commander who is at the point of decision
will naturally better appreciate the true situation than a senior commander
some distance removed. Individual initiative and responsibility are of
However, this does not imply that unity of effort does not exist or that
suppression actions are not coordinated. Unity of effort requires coordination
and cooperation among all forces toward a commonly understood objective.
Unified coordinated action, whether between adjacent single resources
on the fire line or between the highest command level and the most subordinate
fire fighter, is critical to successful fire suppression and is not incompatible
with the philosophy of decentralized command.
Principles of Suppression Operations
The primary means by which we implement decentralized command and maintain
unity of action is through the use of universal principles of suppression
operations. These principles guide our fundamental fire suppression practices,
behaviors, and customs, and are mutually understood at every level of
command. These include but are not limited to the Standard Fire Suppression
Orders, the 18 Watch Out Situations, LCES and the Downhill Line Construction
Checklist. These principles are fundamental to how we perform fire suppression
operations. They are not absolute rules. They provide guidance in the
form of concepts and values. Using these principles requires judgment
in application, which is intended to improve decision making and fire
Principles of Action
Additionally, the Principles of Action are a set of precepts that, as
fundamentals, lend context in developing overall fire strategy. They help
us frame the management and conduct of fire suppression operations. Again,
these are not absolute, immutable rules. These four principles give us
a consistent set of considerations with which to evaluate decisions, plans
and actions in different situations.
Objective — The principle of the objective is
to direct every fire suppression operation toward a clearly defined, decisive,
and obtainable objective. The objective of fire suppression operations
is to achieve the suppression objectives that support the overall management
goals for the fire.
Speed and Focus — Speed is rapidity of action.
Focus is the convergence of resources at the desired position to initiate
action. The principle of speed and focus maintains that rapidly deploying
and concentrating fire suppression resources, in a calculated fashion,
at the decisive time and place increases the likelihood of successful
Positioning — The principle of positioning maintains
that rapid, flexible and opportunistic movement increases the effectiveness
of fire suppression resources. Positioning ranges from single resource
offensive or defensive reactions to dynamic fire conditions to pre-positioning
of multiple resources based on predicted activity and values at risk.
Positioning should always be undertaken with speed and focus in mind,
and with sufficient time for positioning to occur before operations begin.
Simplicity — The principle of simplicity is that
clear uncomplicated plans and concise orders maximize effectiveness and
minimize confusion. Simplicity contributes to successful actions.
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