The Ten Cardinal Sins of Bushfire Fighting

It has been my experience and it has been said before in many different ways, that there are ten cardinal sins that bushfire controlers, sector leaders, crew leaders and some bushfire fighters are continually being accused of committing at some time or other. These sins are often brought up during fire debriefs, are:

  1. Failure to make an immediate attack with sufficient force;
  2. Failure to sectorise the incident;
  3. Indecision as to the method and point of attack;
  4. Failure to set up a comand structure and assigh tasks;
  5. Failure to set up proper communication arrangements;
  6. Failure to monitor all factors of the incidentand the weather situation;
  7. Failure to send regular situation reports to the next superior officer, so finding support not available when most required;
  8. Failure to take advantage of "lulls" during the period when the incident slows down;
  9. Failure to "mop-up" and "patrol" the incident properly, with subsequent breakaways; and
  10. Failure to brief fellow bushfire fighters about what the fire is doing, and what we are doing about the fire.

So you don't find yourself wishing you have not committed any of these sins, remember these simple rules:

  1. Consider the general situation and make an appreciation of action required;
  2. Set yourself a clear objective and manage that objective, (e.g. To contain the fire to 1 hectare in 30 minutes);
  3. Assign tasks and resources to meet that objective;
  4. Maintain, where possible, a 1 to 5 span of control;
  5. Ensure effective communication arrangements are established;
  6. Ensure that every person on that fire knows who is in charge;
  7. Brief your people at every opportunity; and
  8. Continually emphasis, that safety considerations are paramount.

Peter Lucas-Smith
Chief Fire Control Officer
2 February 1998

Last updated 4 November 2014