Chapter 2. The Incident Management System (IMS)

In 1970, a series of devastating wildfires swept across California, destroying more than 700 homes over 775 square miles in 13 days with 13 fatalities, and resulting in more than $233 million in losses (over $1 billion in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation). Thousands of firefighters from around the state and beyond responded, but found it very difficult to work together. They certainly knew how to fight fires, but lacked a common management framework that could scale up and down with the incident. They also lacked a standardized approach for incident leadership. Shortly thereafter, several fire service leaders created a revolutionary system for managing emergencies that range from the everyday fire and medical emergency to large-scale emergency events (such as the one depicted in Figure 2-1) that make the national news. The Incident Command System (ICS) was born, which has since evolved into the Incident Management System (IMS).

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Figure 2-1. Forest fire. Credit: Jvdwolf (

The IMS was revolutionary because it cut across the geographical and cultural boundaries that separate fire departments. It offered a nondenominational platform that, in essence, served as an operating system for people within both a single fire department or when multiple fire departments needed to work together. And even though the core concepts ...

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