Notes from the Incident Commander


The Art of Firefighting

posted Jul 29, 2013, 12:32 PM by Rocky Mountain Blue Team

Sun Tzu wrote “The Art of War” in the 6th Century BC. It is a step-by-step account of warfare strategies composed of 13 chapters. Although Sun Tzu never intended its application to firefighting, consider this adaptation, since we call ourselves firefighters…


The Art of Firefighting


It is called firefighting for a reason.

The fire is your enemy.

Fuels, terrain, and objects are your battleground.

Know your enemy, yourself, and the battleground while protecting life safety.

Your Enemy can grow, spread, and become more powerful.

Your battleground is dangerous and can become weaker.

Use strategy, tactics, and force to defeat your enemy.

Strategy and tactics must be well-timed and appropriate for changing conditions.

Force refers to staffing, equipment, and water in terms of gallons per minute.

Choose strategy, tactics, and force that will defeat your enemy quickly.

Do not underestimate your enemy, yourself, and the effects of the battleground.


Sun Tzu understood that soldiers who were not ready to fight would lose. When a crew pulls up to a fire, incident commanders, crew bosses, and firefighters must be ready with knowledge to develop strategy, apply tactics, and use their staffing to fight the fire.

Sun Tzu stressed the importance of moving quickly on your enemy, to avoid attacking when it was strong, and to strike when it was weak.

Sun Tzu believed that success in war required winning decisive engagements quickly and to avoid lengthy campaigns or operations. In firefighting, this means controlling fires as soon as possible by removing or cooling fuels. Sun Tzu wrote, “Do not repeat the tactics which gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.” Take a minute and make a plan, do not make a plan a minute.

More than 2,700 years ago, “The Art of War” was written as a way to win at battle and war. It is amazing that something written so long ago could still have relevance today. As firefighters, we face many battles— budgets, safety, training, regulations, work/rest, recruitment and retention of quality firefighters, and so on. Our battle is and has always been--firefighting. Do not underestimate fire or the effects of the fire. Also, do not underestimate your potential to succeed, to enhance learning, and to improve the way we fight fires.

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