The Planning Process, Operational Briefings, and Operational Art

Opening a new thread to discuss Operational period briefings, composition, etc.

Addendum: The exact same rules apply to this thread as any other thread, meaning this is NOT about what somebody did or didn’t do or should or should not have done. That includes, Team v. Team discussions, or tactics deployed on any given incident.

Being in three pairs of shoes, an OSC and a DIVS on the operations side and a PSC on a Type 1 IMT – and having worked with Team 4. Let’s stop second guessing anything on the Caldor. The 204’s are a reference developed in advance by a process that has taken place the previous night. No one here that I know was at the 0530 operations overhead meeting. That is where the DIVS, OPBD, the OSCs, and usually the FBAN and IMET are in an invitational only private meeting. We discuss the latest plan, horse-trade resources based on the night operation, double check and establish priorities for the day, and then get the real story, the one you have to really pull out of the IMET and FBAN about things they don’t like to say out loud. That is where the rubber meets the road. Then the OSC calls the ATGS and they discuss their priorities based on the ground priorities. That is the OA, Operational Art. If there are outstanding orders for resources then often times you are told there is no sense in asking for more vaporous “hardware.” Transitioning into command in the middle of a firefight is anything but fun. Give them a chance, if they ever get one. Rocky and the team are good. If anyone can pull this off it is them.


Before we leave this topic, lets get the story correct. The planning Meeting is the previous night, that’s where the OSCs plan is “bought off” by the rest of the C&GS. After that it is memorialized in the IAP. However, tweaks are made at 0530, and all day long the IAP is modified. An IAP is a snapshot in time, the planning process is far more important than the work assignments listed on the 204. However, the whole process is definitely NOT 72 hours. Regardless of timing,

"No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength.” [Helmuth von Moltke (1800–1891)].

So all day long the OSC moves resources to correspond with the ebb and flow of the battle. Also understand that this year, not too many OSCs that I have been following have been able to utilize the Principles of War, commonly referred to in the EM world as the Tactical Engagement Principles. You would know them if you went through S-336 in the 90’s. I can start a General Discussion if you want, but enough of this in the middle of the Caldor.


Well said! I’m a SOF2 on a Type 2 Team. Safety is also part of that 0530 briefing. The 0530 brief is where the plan really takes hold. The IAP is already 12 plus hours old for that early briefing and it can and usually does change. To “armchair quarterback” on such a complex incident is not needed. The team(s) and team(s) coming in on this incident are well qualified, both red and green. Just my thoughts…


Some of our great military leaders have said that plans are worthless but it is the planning that is so meaningful. It’s all the intel and process that went into the plan which helps us stay fluid, bob and weave through the operational period. Carry on…


Not arm chairing anything, just a thought I am having- so don’t shoot. I wonder in the case of fires that burn well into the night due to altitude, would it be prudent to adjust the operational period to a window that is reflective of environment. If the fire is burning less intense from let’s say 3am to 8, maybe hold briefing at 0400 and adjust the clock. Maybe I’m wrong, and I know this goes against all prior thought process in terms of the planning cycle, of which I’m well aware of. Just thinking outside the box in terms of an evolution of the process. If you see this in the future, you heard it hear first. Just kidding.

Safety to all and strength to the firefighters currently making it happen.


Usually someone from Logs is there to get ahead of line needs as the horse trading may/will determine how they spend their morning. JMHO

Different teams may alter the attendance to suit their personality, but it is the OSC’s meeting and their call on who attends, period. I personally didn’t have someone from the Logs shop there, but if there was a reason, then they would be. What I didn’t want is it to become an open meeting. This is where the operations section talks and discusses and gets it right. The first IAPs were held in reserve for this meeting and it was very controlled. I wasn’t shy about saying no, it isn’t for you. Often times a RESL was there, but that’s because they needed to make a bunch of pen and ink changes from the plan to the one filed in the doc box as the “corrected IAP.”

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Originally mis-posted in Continuing:

Did anybody watch the morning ops briefing. It seemed…strange. It didn’t seem like it included recent (last 12 hours) information about the east side. The map looked very outdated. Maybe I watched a mis-labled video? The map title show 8/30 so not sure what’s up. I would think they would have at least touched on Sierra at Tahoe. Maybe a planning person can chime in on why this might occur.

Note: This is a question more about process than evaluation.

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I understand that and I’ve had to deal with that, but I am willing to say I Can Not Support The Plan JMHO

Maybe I’m wrong, and I know this goes against all prior thought process in terms of the planning cycle, of which I’m well aware of. Just thinking outside the box in terms of an evolution of the process. If you see this in the future, you heard it hear first. Just kidding.

IMTs have and can adjust the starting and ending times of Operational Periods (OPs) depending on a number of factors, length of daylight being a major factor. Latitude and your location can make huge differences depending on the calendar month. Honoring the “In country not seen in daylight” can be mitigated with different OP start and end times. Go to the GNP and it will make a believer out of you. There are also other ways to mitigate the result of increasing fire behavior or changing Operational Periods at the height of activity. Deploying an afternoon shift that starts in the middle of an OP has been done. Think of it as surge staffing. Also understand that the term shift and shift change are different from Operational Periods and Operation Period Briefings and changes. They should not be used interchangeably because they are not.

So, sorry, its been done. It might have fallen out of practice with that 24 hour (alleged) operational period practiced in California, but it has been tried and successful.


Only one time but it worked then, Fire’s name escapes me but the base was in a meadow at the intersection SR 32 and Sr 36. Briefing was at 0900 with shift change at 1000. On a 24 hour shift, the folks off shift got to sleep ALL night instead getting up in the dark. And those on the line got to make use of the coolest part of the day and make certain in the daylight their section would hold.

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Alleged 24 hour op periods?
Please elaborate

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Maybe they corrected a mislabeled video. When I got the link it says 8-30 and the map says 8-30.

EDIT and NOTE: Some folks have asked why there has not been any follow up to my reply to EPBL41 made now 3 days ago and Firedog1’s request that I “Please elaborate” on my use of the word “alleged.” Subsequent to my post, Firedog1 and myself have been exchanging numerous emails and conducting a professional, enlightening, and some times spirited conversation regarding my comment – outside of this thread.

Although I think a lot of what we discussed would actually be beneficial to others in learning about ICS, some of the nuances and future developments, and the planning process, for now let me clarify something. In my 40+ years of working incidents, teaching courses and coaching 420 and the like - often paired with Calfire personnel and overhead, no one ever corrected me and stated that the implementation of the Calfire 24-hour operational period was as a result of a study on the effectiveness of the 2 12-hour operational period clock versus a 24-hour Operational Period and its superiority. As a result of our conversations there is a search to find that research paper/white paper. The existence of that is a possible game changer, because it takes it from the perception of a “contractual nicety” to a possible “best practice” for others outside of Calfire, California, and the USA.

My professional drive and job is to bring best practices to the national/international scene. I am not paid for my personal opinion, but for my professional opinion. Although I am certainly NOT paid to post here, it is an outstanding forum to discuss concepts and ideas with other SMEs and professionals. if there is documentation that my opinion was wrong, I am more than willing to say I was wrong. I have been in this game for – far too long to have thin skin. I am eagerly awaiting someone to find that study/white paper because of its implications. So, although it seemed quiet, it has been the subject of extensive discussions.


I recall reading something in Wildfire Today that mentions and discusses such a report as you mention, or at least touches on the subject matter. I went to search for it, but did find it immediately. It would have been in the last 18 months. I will keep looking, but I remember a discussion about the reports results and 12 hour vs. 24 hour shift in the comments section.


24 vs. 12

April 1, 2016

John Picarello asks the question, “what is the most efficient work schedule for the fire service?”

John Picarello

John Picarello

Recently, I was given an assignment to conduct a comprehensive review of various shift schedules and ultimately submit a proposal for one that was more efficient than our current 24-hour shift. In essence, I was being asked, what is the most efficient work schedule for the fire service? The exercise proved to be quite interesting and may shed some light on an interesting topic.

The nature of public safety establishes a need to provide services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. To accomplish this, many fire departments utilize a 24-hour shift. Other fire departments as well as other public safety organizations, such as police, 9-1-1 communications and those in the medical community, have the same requirement to provide services 24 hours a day but few, if any, utilize a 24-hour shift. In contrast, many utilize some form of a 12-hour shift. Why is that? Let’s dig into the answer by first addressing the 24-hour shift.

24-hour shifts

There are many variations of the 24-hour shift, but for the purpose of this discussion, we will focus on a schedule where an employee works 24 hours on duty and gets 48 hours off along with a Kelly Day (a day off occurring at a prescribed interval required to keep an employee from working too many hours during a pay cycle). The Kelly Day usually occurs every six to 10 shifts depending on the agreed upon and/or negotiated work week. The 24-hour shift provides several benefits for the organization: infrequent shift exchanges, employees who can work more than 40 hours per week, and consistent coverage throughout the year, including weekends and holidays.

The benefit of infrequent shift exchanges is a result of the significant amount of time required to handle emergency calls. In the case of a working structure fire, fire crews can be on scene for several hours, if not longer. The same holds true for other types of emergencies, such as complex automobile extrications and hazardous material leaks and spills. In the case of a medical response, patient treatment and transportation can also be a lengthy process. In these situations, the less frequent shift exchanges occur, the less chance there is that a crew will be busy on scene of an emergency, which would delay and disrupt the shift exchange process.

Another way the 24-hour shift benefits the organization is that it provides employees who can work in excess of 40 hours per week. For example, firefighters who work a 24-hour shift followed by 48 hours off and receive a Kelly Day every seventh shift work a 48.46-hour work week. Federal law allows firefighters to work up to 53 hours per week without requiring overtime pay. As a result, the 24-hour schedule provides fire departments with more hours of coverage per employee compared to the more traditional work week. In addition, the 24-hour shift provides employees who understand and accept that they are required to work every third day regardless of whether their shift falls on a weekend or holiday.

The 24-hour shift is also very popular with employees. One reason for this is that, as a result of working 24 hours in a single shift, employees work fewer shifts throughout the month. Although the total number of hours worked per week is actually more, the 24-hour shift described above results in an employee working approximately eight to 10 shifts per month. This explains why employees who live greater distances away from their fire stations prefer 24-hour shifts. Another reason why the 24-hour shift is popular with employees is because employees are usually afforded downtime while not training, responding to emergencies or conducting other fire department related duties.

On the organizational side, a significant downside of the 24-hour shift is the fact that staffing levels cannot be adjusted according to the workload. In other words, there is no way to adjust the number of personnel on duty to correlate with the typical call volume experienced throughout a 24-hour period.

Another significant downside that should be considered is fatigue. Some agencies that run a large number of structure fires are not able to use 24-hour shifts because of the amount of fatigue placed on the employees. However, if this is not an issue, the 24-hour shift is very attractive for both employees and employers.

12-hour shifts

As mentioned earlier, another commonly used work schedule in public safety and the medical community is the 12-hour shift. There are several variations of the 12-hour shift. However, for the purpose of this discussion we will consider the 12-hour shift where the employee works four days on duty followed by four days off.

To some degree, the 12-hour shift provides the organization with the same benefits of the 24-hour shift, which includes having employees who work in excess of a 40-hour work week and employees that provide continuous coverage for weekends and holidays. The 12-hour shift described above equates to a 42.46-hour work week.

In terms of efficiency, the 12-hour shift provides organizations with the flexibility needed to adjust staffing levels based on peak and non-peak call times. This is a major benefit over the 24-hour shift and, hence, one of the reasons why it is popular with a variety of organizations. Based on five years of historical data, we have determined that our peak call times are from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., seven days per week. After 8 p.m., our call volume drops off significantly. Specifically, we have determined that we receive almost 70 percent of our calls for service between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., and the remaining 30 percent between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. This is where the 24-hour shift becomes inefficient. It has the same number of personnel on duty during the non-peak call times as it does during the peak call times.

Interestingly enough, our historical data also indicates that we respond to the vast majority of our structure fires and experience a majority of our fire losses and on-the-job injuries during our peak call times. In addition, when we do have the need to request mutual aid, it is also usually during our peak call times. This supports the notion that by not changing our current staffing levels during our peak call times when we typically receive almost 70 percent of our calls, we can still operate safely and effectively while reducing our staffing levels slightly during our non-peak call times. It is important that each organization review their own data to determine their peak and non-peak call times, but I am certain that many will have similar results.

The ideal situation

So, back to the original question, what is the most efficient work schedule for the fire service? It is evident that there is no one schedule that works best. It is actually a combination of both the 24-hour shift and the 12-hour shift. The 24-hour shift provides you with employees who typically work between 46 and 50 hours per week with minimal shift exchanges while providing continuous coverage throughout the year. The 12-hour shift also provides these benefits; however, in addition, it provides you with the ability to schedule additional employees that are only necessary during your peak call times.

One model would be to schedule the majority of your personnel, approximately 75 percent, on a 24-hour shift and the remaining 25 percent on a 12-hour shift. Personnel on the 12-hour shift would be assigned to emergency vehicles that will operate only during your peak call times. These units will be shut down during your non-peak call times. The combination of the 24-hour shift and the 12-hour shift would result in having the same number of employees on duty with the same number of units in service during peak call times, while allowing you to reduce staffing slightly during your non-peak call times. In addition, it can result in some cost savings as a result of needing approximately 5 percent fewer employees during your non-peak call times.

Of course, the practice of “peak staffing” or staffing according to your needs is nothing new. It is practiced in most others aspects of local government, including public safety, and is even more prevalent in the private sector. However, based on the fact that “peak staffing” is not widely practiced in the fire service, implementing it may be difficult in established departments. The ideal situation would be where a municipality and organization are currently experiencing significant development and growth. At that point, they would embrace the concept of utilizing a peak-staffing model prior to hiring additional employees for their 24-hour shift. They would set their 24-hour staffing levels based on their needs during their non-peak call times and hire new employees to staff the additional units needed during their peak call times. This scenario would probably be understood and accepted more readily as opposed to trying to implement the change retroactively with a municipality and department that are no longer growing.


Not sure if this helps. It’s the Firehouse Mag. April 1, 2016 edition


Sent you a message… maybe the piece you were looking for.

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I saw that, thank you! I am wading through all the materials I have received so far. “Please keep those cards and letters coming.” Possible candidates will be shared with Firedog1 to see if we have found it. It does appear there are references to it existing so y’all are on the right track. This demostrates the utility and value of the forum.

NFA EFO papers are available to the public and can be enlightening. Although secured, which can be a pain, they are valuable to research. Because of its proximity to the target, here is what Jstacalguy sent. I’ll be wading through it in the coming days.

24-hour Shift EFO Research Paper 34809.pdf (145.8 KB)Analysis of 12 and 24 Hour Operational Shifts in Wildfire Ops.pdf (329.9 KB)