Course Description

This online course is 36 learning hours over twelve weeks. It is recommended that students spend a minimum of 3 hours each week on coursework. Students may choose to complete more hours of work on the course in order to explore the content in more depth. 

This course is for firefighters and officers that have had at least one opportunity to be an incident commander in their department. The course emphasizes recognition primed decision (RPD) and classical decision making and how it applies to the incident commander. It also studies high-reliability organizations and how they reduce risk by getting it right. The research and course assignments help individuals understand how and why we do things in a high stress environment.

Course Outline

Unit 1: NDM and RPD (Weeks 1 and 2)

How commanders should and do think are not necessarily the same. Moreover, how executives think in an office and commanders think at an emergency operations centre or at the emergency scene are not necessarily the same either. The learning objective of this unit is to gain an appreciation for the distinction between classical decision making and naturalistic decision making (NDM).

Unit 2: Converting Training into Experience (Weeks 3 and 4)

If experience leading to reflection on that experience is the best teacher, what do we do when experience dries up owing to effective prevention measures? One answer is to encourage realistic training that substitutes for part of that experience. Another answer is that, if you can’t move the fire to the commander’s community, move the commander to the fire…in another community. The learning objective of this unit is to gain an appreciation for the effect of skills atrophy.

Unit 3: NAT and HRO (Weeks 5 to 9)

The basic research that underlies much of the thinking on incident command starts with theory on disasters, specifically Natural Accident Theory (NAT). That theory is complimented by the study of organizations that prevent accidents and respond to those accidents that weren’t prevented. These are high reliability organizations (HROs).

Unit 4: The Consequences of Theory on the Profession (Weeks 10 to 12)

Whether the fire service can withstand a sometimes ignorant and sometimes indifferent environment partly depends on whether incident command can be a profession. Whether incident command becomes a profession within the fire service depends on whether a body of knowledge can be developed and whether that knowledge can be transmitted to make an educated incident commander.

What You Will Learn

Upon completion of this course, learners will:
  • gain an appreciation for the distinction between classical decision making and naturalist decision making (NDM)
  • gain an appreciation for the effect of skills atrophy
  • explore natural Accident Theory (NAT) and High Reliability Organizations (HROs)
  • understand the consequences of theory on the profession


Enrolment in this course automatically enrols you into the Certificate in Incident Command. There is no obligation to complete the certificate requirements.

Fire Officer Certification: Is one of ten required courses for Fire Officer III. All grades must be 70% or higher. Prerequisite to applying for Fire Officer III is completion of Fire Officer II from elsewhere. Self-serve tracking of progress towards Fire Officer III Accreditation is available. To request enrolment in CE0099 Fire Officer III Accreditation Track, email openlearning@dal.ca .

For more Fire Service Management courses click here.

The Faculty of OLCD recommends an intermediate level of English language proficiency for the most effective learning and participation in our online and face-to-face courses. A list of minimum recommended scores on some common English tests can be found on our website. If you have questions about your English language proficiency and ability to succeed in this course, please contact openlearning@dal.ca.


This course is for those who already have incident command experience. You must email firemgt@dal.ca a brief description of your Incident Command experience for review by the program director before you will be enrolled in this course.

Prerequisite: Incident Command Experience and at least three years of fire related experience (both career and volunteer experience counts).

Recommended For

  • the fire officer that wants to understand more of “why” Incident Commanders think the way they do
  • the senior firefighter that will be placed into an Incident Commander role on occasion
  • those in an acting capacity that will regularly be placed into an Incident Commander role
Enrol Now - Select a section to enrol in
Section Title
Theoretical Foundations of Incident Command: Thinking
Online - Self-Paced
Sep 08, 2023 to Nov 30, 2023
Total Learning Hours
Instruction Delivery Method(s)
Course Fee(s)
Tuition Fee non-credit $1,450.00
Required Software
Students will require a webcam and microphone to participate in live sessions.
Section Notes

This course has scheduled written assignments and discussions within the term time frame. The syllabus will be available on the course site. The course site on Brightspace will be available to students from 8:00 AM on course start date.

Scheduled sessions: students who are unable to attend live sessions will be able to view a recorded version. Days and times of scheduled meetings will be announced at a future date.

Participants in this course are eligible for a T2202 tax receipt. In order to receive a tax receipt, you must put your Social Insurance Number into the profile section of your student account. If you do not add your Social Insurance Number, you will not receive a tax receipt. T2202 tax receipts will be available for you to download from your account at the end of February of the following calendar year.

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