Ferguson lessons: A model of police, fire, and EMS teamwork

If rioting involves businesses being looted and burned, our brothers and sisters in the big red trucks will be summoned — and any FD or EMS response in the hot zone will require a dedicated police presence to protect the responders


Remember a few years back when we all had to suffer through the open-eyed coma of the Federally-mandated Incident Command System (ICS) training? I became an instructor for all levels of the training — not by choice, by the way. While I thought the boring method of training ICS sucked, the system itself was — and still is — the best way to manage critical incidents.

ICS is not merely a way to organize the rush of resources needed to handle an unexpected catastrophe, like a tornado or train crash. ICS really excels in the spool up for a pre-planned event, and the riot following the grand jury’s announcement in Ferguson, Missouri was just such an event.

Multiple agencies had several weeks to pre-organize things like a Unified Command Post, resource Staging Areas and Perimeter locations around predictable hot spots. Clearly, such pre-planning was done under the ICS umbrella leading up to the release of the grand jury finding.

Don’t Fear ICS
Don’t fear ICS — embrace the organizational power it offers. If the details of the organization intimidate you, simply request the assistance of an Incident Management Team (IMT) — every state has them. An IMT is made up of ICS-geeks who love all of the organizational details and intricacies which bore most of us to tears. They don’t take over your decision-making process — they merely handle all of the “admin” details in the background.

The other important thing we saw in the aftermath of the decision was close interoperability between police and fire assets. The traditional first response disciplines of police, fire and EMS got a real chance to play well with each other, and they did. The Missouri National Guard wasn’t much in evidence on night one, but Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has promised they will assume a much larger role if needed, so interoperability will be even more important.

Individual flash points within riots tend to ebb and flow with different response needs. If a police crowd control team takes measures to disperse a crowd, using chemicals or other force methods, EMS resources will likely become necessary.

If rioting involves businesses being looted and burned, our brothers and sisters in the big red trucks will be summoned — and any FD or EMS response in the hot zone will require a dedicated police presence to protect the responders. You must escort the assets to the “fire” then create a small, temporary perimeter within the overall Hot Zone, a bubble of protection for those handling the fires and/or casualties.

Minimizing Danger for All
Whether the aftermath of the Ferguson shooting blows up even wider as days go by or we begin the long process of returning to relative calm, we can already use Ferguson’s violence as a “teachable moment.”

In a worst-case scenario — like Tuesday night in Ferguson — the number of burning vehicles and buildings may exceed the capabilities of the fire resources. When fire commanders are forced to prioritize which fires will go untended, it is especially important to have reliable communication between themselves and police commanders (ideally inside the Command Post). Then, those decisions must be effectively relayed to tactical police commanders in the Hot Zone. Communications, as we all know, is usually the first system to fail in an emergency.

If the violence spreads, I hope your jurisdiction will have the same degree of organization and inter-disciplinary cooperation I saw on TV in Ferguson, Missouri.

That is the best way to minimize the danger for all — citizens and first responders alike.

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