Council, mayor and borough manager applaud Columbia’s fire and police response

At Monday’s borough council meeting, councillor Jim Smith injected how impressed he was with the response from the borough’s volunteer fire companies’ response to a recent fire incident on Chestnut Street.

He related how orchestrated the response was and how the firefighters exercised great care in protecting the contents of the property as they acted to suppress the fire caused by a lightning strike.

The mayor and out-going borough manager added that the swiftness and cooperative nature of the borough’s responding public safety resources – fire, law enforcement and emergency management – was a result of “lessons learned” in the aftermath of a fire in the borough last year.

Councillor and chairperson of the Committee for Public Safety, Mary Barninger, reinforced that “lessons learned” and the open sharing of information and perceptions are important improvement processes influenced by the “after-incident” assessment and discussion. Departments across the country have given this discussion a number of names: the bumper talk, the hot-wash, the after action report, the debrief. All refer to the process in which, following the incident, persons involved in the response identify what happened, what was supposed to happen and what may be considered “to improve the outcome the next time something like this happens.”


The “after-action review” is a critical component of the Incident Command System (ICS) – a part the National Incident Management System (NIMS). Formally adopted in February 2003 as Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5, NIMS intended “to enhance the ability of the United States to manage domestic incidents by establishing a single, comprehensive national incident management system” in which “all levels of government across the Nation have the capability to work efficiently and effectively together, using a national approach to domestic incident management.”

To add consistency and teeth (and to be eligible for any future federal funding) to the directive, all municipalities and jurisdictions in the nation had to implement their own proclamations promising to “institutionalize” the establishment of a “single, comprehensive system.” Pennsylvania’s proclamation which “mandate(d) the National Incident Management System be utilized for all incident management in the Commonwealth” was signed in December, 2004.

Columbia Borough’s resolution was in March of 2006. (SOURCE: Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency)

The fire service has been a proponent of the principles of ICS since its introduction as a management tool in fighting wildland fires in the early 1970s. Many fire departments and other first (and subsequent response agencies and resources, including elected public servants) were slower to institutionalize or enable the ICS and NIMS principles.

The NIMS Integration Center strongly recommends that all elected officials who will be interacting with multiple jurisdictions and agencies during an emergency incident at the minimum, complete IS 700 and ICS 100. These courses provide a basic understanding of the National Incident Management System and the Incident Command System. Everyone directly involved in managing an emergency should understand the command reporting structures, common terminology and roles and responsibilities inherent in a response operation.

To learn more about the National Incident Management System and the Incident Command System, click here.

US Fire Administration document on After Action Reports and Lessons Learned

History of Incident Command – US Fire Administration

Many of the basic informational and qualification courses required for NIMS and ICS certification are available online at the Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA Emergency Management Institute.

These articles provide more information about the “after-action review:”

Lessons We Don’t Learn: A Study of the Lessons of Disasters, Why We Repeat Them, and How We Can Learn Them

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