Non-Traditional Sources of IMT Members

September 21, 2010

By: Steve Turcott

Last month, we spent some time considering the essential need for IMT members who can be “role players”, who know their job and can perform effectively in the positions they are assigned. Role players contribute without circumventing the team’s success by heading out on their own and taking independent action that doesn’t help the team. An autonomous leader who has had success as an individual in the past does not necessarily make a great member of an IMT. This month, we are looking at where to go to find quality team members.

First, let’s recognize where we need tactical expertise and where tactical expertise is not so essential. In its efforts toward an all-risk certification and qualification process, FEMA’s Incident Management Working Group recognizes that many incident kinds require tactical expertise relating to the nature of the incident (its “kind”), particularly in certain positions. So the Working Group envisions all-risk position qualifications with endorsements for such incidents as civil disturbances, hazardous materials, structural firefighting, technical rescue, and perhaps aviation incidents, as examples. These endorsements are expected to be applicable to only a few positions, such as Operations Section Chief, Safety Officer, and perhaps the incident Commander. The Working Group recognizes that those who fill these positions need background in the tactics that are being used to solve the problems that exist at our incident or event.

It also would follow that not everyone on our IMT needs such tactic-specific backgrounds, and this reality opens the door to tremendous sources of personnel from which we can recruit team members. If there are positions on the IMT that don’t require extensive tactical knowledge, then those positions can be filled by people without those tactical backgrounds. In other words, the Operations Section can be treating dozens of injured patients, and it might not matter so much that the Logistics Section Chief doesn’t know Benadryl from a trauma dressing.

Here’s an easily-understood example. If the members of the Finance/Admin Section don’t need to be paramedics, police officers, or firefighters, then why not recruit from the city, county, and state finance offices? If they have the desire to be successful members of the IMT, and the essential skills, knowledge, and aptitude, then they can be strong contributors as members of the IMT.

A fleet maintenance supervisor from the city shop might be qualified as a Ground Support Unit Leader. The manager of the county radio system could be our Communications Unit Leader. Maybe the state patrol’s former PIO (now motorcycle troope)r would make a good IMT PIO. Ultimately, it’s all about desire, availability, and ability. “Ability” means the skills to perform the duties of the position, which for most IMT positions, do not include fire suppression, criminal investigation, or emergency medicine.

There are several key benefits to recruiting IMT members who have non-tactical backgrounds.

  1. Doing so allows a greater number of our tactical experts to serve in the Operations Section, helping to solve the problem that brought us all together in the first place. Some of us would call this a “force multiplier.”
  2. In most jurisdictions, following this approach allows us to fill non-tactical positions with better qualified personnel.
  3. This staffing model brings together a broader collection of backgrounds and perspectives, which is a key component to success in the team environment.

Two notes in conclusion. Final note number one: the best IMTs that I have seen are those that draw members from the broadest group of agencies and jurisdictions. To find the best qualified and most motivated team members often necessitates forming a team that consists for personnel from many agencies, perhaps dozens. Final note number two: Trooper Jeff Sevigney is the former Washington State Patrol PIO who serves in that capacity on one of the Spokane County IMTs. I’ve been the Planning Section Chief on one of the Spokane teams for just under ten years. The IMTs here are used primarily at wildland fires, and having qualified State Patrol personnel as team members allows fire service personnel to be used for the suppression effort instead of the incident management effort.

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