Gray- it’s so black and white.

There’s a great video going around this week featuring John Salka at Andy Fredericks Training Days.  Someone in the audience captured a snippet of what Chief Salka was saying and shared it with the rest of us who couldn’t be there.

Essentially, Salka was putting forth his opinion on how a four-man engine crew should be deployed when first on the scene of a house fire.  In the instance he describes, he makes the point that the company officer should not remain outside when establishing command as that decision leaves the interior attack team of two firefighters ‘unsupervised’.

One brave firefighter in the audience is not afraid to disagree and stand up for this decision, citing ‘command and control’ and ‘directing incoming units’ as the reason for sending in the two blue shirts alone.

Click this link to see the video- definitely worth your time:

John Salka at Andy Fredericks Training Days 2011

 Quick- which one is right?

The company officer should always go in to supervise the attack

The company officer should trust his crew and assume command outside.


Scenario aside, I began thinking yet again how we have been inundated with right/wrong – left/right – black/white.  We are now a “polarized culture”, forced to decide between two opposite options.  What ever happened to the middle ground?

Attention to any of you who only think in black and white:  Gray exists.

I’m amazed that, a full quarter of a century after this gray-haired company officer first received his training, there are still fire departments across the country who don’t understand the concept of “interior command.”

Interior command involves maintain control of the situation from the inside while simultaneously mounting an initial attack.  Yes, this can be done!

In my department, the first arriving fire officer (or firefighter if no officer is there) establishes command on all incidents.  When establishing command, the company officer needs to decide if the incident is better served by establishing exterior command, interior command, or passing command to the next arriving officer.  Each incident will be different, taking into account the fire stage, smoke conditions, need for immediate rescue/extinguishment inside, training and capabilities of his/her crew, ETA of the next company, etc.  In effect, what will be happening in the next five minutes?

If your department establishes command only from the outside, then I would urge you to consider the option of “interior command.”  It may not seem black or white, but that’s just fine…  Gray is OK.  All it takes is a certain number of operational brain cells combined with ensuring that you communicate to everyone- those on scene, those still coming, and dispatch as well- what it is that you have and what it is that you are doing. 

This spring and summer, I’ll be working with Chief Christopher Naum and his Firefighter Netcast program, “Taking It to the Streets,” to explore, among other things, the controversial topic of “too safe” vs. “too aggressive.”  I am looking forward to a passionate discussion from both sides of the debate.  I urge you to participate as well! 

As the series progresses, we may see some middle ground (“gray” if you will) emerge that may hold some viable options for you and your agency/department.  Sign up for free notifications and RSS feeds of all the programming at

Thanks to the audience member who had the foresight to capture Chief Salka’s “point” being made, as well as to the firefighter who, among his peers, risked his neck to dare to disagree- in effect furthering the discussion we so desperately need.  That is really brave, and refreshing!

Be aggressive, be smart, and stay stoked!


  • Bill Carey says:

    No matter how you cut it, gray; black; white; rainbow; go one more step further in this process: Is what he said okay because he was in a suit and not a dress uniform?

    Bill Carey

  • Dave LeBlanc says:

    John, I think the problem is that there are those that equate COMMAND with Command Post. In the front yard, playing with magnets. If you are the first arriving officer or firefighter you own the scene, unless your Department policy dictates otherwise. Whether you are on the front lawn, in the basement, on the roof or in the coffee shop….you own it, you are responsible for it and you have to set the course.

    That being said, the amount of decisions you make may be less if you are also crawling down the hallway, but we should not be reducing our interior strength to fill the IC role. Of course that means our Company Officers need to be able to multitask as well.

    Look at Homewood….how much of an issue was their Command and Control?

    @Bill_Carey:disqus @FFBehavior:disqus @thefrontseat:disqus @Firefighternetcast:disqus

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John Mitchell

Firefighter/Paramedic and a Lieutenant in suburban Chicago

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