The term “freelancing” has become overused in the fire service, often to negatively connote any form of individual action not explicitly ordered or any action accomplished solo. This follows as incident command structures have become extremely rigid in the name of accountability, severely handicapping the ability for individuals and teams to think and act as conditions dictate to positively impact the outcome. The training wheels have gone back on in the name of safety, but the freedom to ride has been lost.
There is a time and a place for just about everything. Sometimes you do need to slow down and follow a rigidly defined plan. That has become every fire, however, where no one moves or acts unless explicitly told to do so by an IC. This is not good for the outcome of many fires, as a Command by Directive style of leadership drastically slows tempo and inhibits operators from making decisions in real time. Any action outside of those expressly ordered is negatively deemed “freelancing,” both an incorrect use of the term and a handicap on effective operations.
Freelancers are by definition workers for hire. They work for themselves, but toward the job or mission they are employed by. For the fire service, this should allow for any action of the firefighting force that positively impacts the fireground. Yes, if you empower your people to THINK that does increase the risk of them making the wrong tactical decision, but if you TRAIN them to think, you produce flow on the fireground, you simply to Command by Intent, and your players are free to turn the fireground back into the ballet its supposed to be.
In a FD where I used to work, the best fires had three radio transmissions: the first in size up, “water on the fire,” and “searches negative.” In between was a beautiful dance of engine and truck company operations defined by tasks and goals that needed little direction. Firemanship isn’t freelancing.