National Wildfire Coordinating Group

S-420, Command and General Staff, 2020

S-420 Decorative banner. Group of photos depicting wildland firefighters performing various duties.

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Course Delivery Information

S-420 is available as instructor-led (classroom) training.

NWCG training materials are being updated to reduce redundancy and conflict among overlapping documents.  Course-specific student workbooks will be replaced by standards-bearing NWCG publications - the documents that actually guide operations.  Instructor guidance will be integrated into PowerPoint presentations rather than located in separate documents.  Instructors may use the instructor guide file (exported from the PowerPoint presenter notes), view the notes in presentation mode, or export the notes into the desired format.

Expectations of Instructors

  • Prepare thoroughly. Study the course content you are going to teach.
  • Establish a collaborative and constructive classroom environment.
  • Communicate expectations.
  • Encourage student engagement.
  • Respect student diversity in backgrounds, talent, experience, and learning style.
  • Professionally represent your instructor cadre, your home unit, and your agency.

Course Guidance

Course coordinators and instructors should be thoroughly familiar with the NWCG Standards for Course Delivery, PMS 901-1.  The NWCG Standards for Course Delivery establishes standards for all aspects of NWCG training course management and delivery. These standards should be used in conjunction with the NWCG Standards for Wildland Fire Position Qualifications, PMS 310-1, and the course-specific guidance stated in the NWCG Training Catalog.

See S-420 minimum instructor qualifications

Recommended Class Size

This course is designed for a class size of 24 students organized into three teams of eight students.

Space and Classroom Requirements

The characteristics of the classroom and supportive facilities have a significant impact on the learning environment. The classroom should be chosen and viewed well in advance of the presentation.

A classroom that can accommodate all 24 students (in three groups), coaches, and cadre is required for the course instruction portions.

The simulation requires space for each team to operate separate from the other teams. Ideally, each team will have a separate breakout room. Two additional breakout rooms are required for the full day simulation.


The cadre should consist of individuals that have sufficient experience to represent each Type 2 Command and General Staff (C&G) position to accomplish the course objectives. A minimum of three instructors and three coaches are required. Ideally, cadres would include a qualified and experienced representative from each of the functional areas, a Type 2 Incident Commander, and an experienced Agency Administrator.

Coaches provide students with high-quality performance feedback. Coaches should have Type 2 C&G experience as well as the ability to provide performance feedback and facilitate learning in small groups. Each team requires a minimum of one coach; however, two coaches enable a better learning experience and more specific feedback opportunities. Coaches can also serve as unit instructors.

A large part of the course consists of simulation where students apply what they’ve learned during instructional units. The simulation will require the participation of multiple cadre and role players to deliver. A Simulation Coordinator should be identified early during course preparation. The Simulation Coordinator should plan at least 40 hours for preparation time prior to the course to arrange necessary materials, role players, and logistics.

The course introduction includes a keynote address. If possible, arrange for a keynote speaker who can discuss the significance of Incident Management Teams (IMTs) at the regional and national level.  

Cadre Meetings

Conduct initial, pre-course, daily, and close-out instructor cadre meetings. These provide opportunities to plan, organize, preview materials, review training and exercises, and identify and address concerns and issues. Consider using an informal After Action Review (AAR) process. Instructor cadre meetings are critical for instructors who do not have previous experience with the course. Additional information, including a Cadre Meeting Checklist, is located in the NWCG Standards for Course Delivery, PMS 901-1.

Initial Cadre Call:  Each student is required to submit a biography and complete the initial portion of the Student Self-Assessment and Feedback Rubric as part of the pre-course work. The information from these documents can be used when forming student teams, to ensure that the teams are well rounded and diverse. The coaches assigned to each team should become familiar with the student biographies and self-evaluations prior to the course.

A cadre meeting before each day’s course presentation is recommended because of the interrelationship of the unit material (changing instructional materials in one unit may impact a later unit or the simulation).

Course Materials

The material in this course is designed to be delivered through lecture-based instructional unit presentations, facilitated discussions, classroom exercises, and multiple phases of simulation.

Coaches Resources

The Coaches Resources (zip file) include team building exercises, recommendations for coaching and feedback, and other documents to supplement course materials.


The course material includes a multi-phase simulation that allows students an opportunity to exercise the materials and concepts taught in the instructional units. The simulation material, including documents, materials checklists, and organization aids, is available for the cadre to download from the Wildland Fire Learning Portal (WFLP).

The Course Coordinator and cadre can elect to create and use an alternate simulation or scenario. This may be done to reflect local fuel types, resources, and conditions where the student will likely fill incident assignments, or delivery constraints of a particular session. If this is done, the cadre should take care to ensure that the simulation objectives and intent remain intact.

Additional Materials and Equipment Needed

These materials are needed above and beyond the usual items (pens, paper, flip charts, markers, etc.).

For Each Small Group:

  • 50 - 4x6 index cards.

For Simulation:

  • See Simulation Materials Checklist and Simulation Coordinator’s Guide in the WFLP.


  • Delegation of Authority, Incident Briefing (ICS 201), and Incident Action Plan from a real incident.

Selection Letter and Pre-Course Work

Selection letters should be sent to students to describe the pre-course work and provide class times, dates, and location. Refer to the NWCG Standards for Course Delivery, PMS 901-1, for more information on selection letters.

S-420 has mandatory pre-course work. The pre-course work can be downloaded with the Course Materials. The Course Coordinator can choose to use the Wildland Fire Learning Portal (WFLP) or other means, such as email, to distribute and/or track completion of the pre-course work. Students should receive the pre-course work information at least six weeks before the beginning of the course to allow time for completion.

The Sample Selection Letter may be augmented with the following information:

Pre-course Work

Required pre-course work must be completed by [DATE]. The pre-course work takes approximately four to six hours to complete and can be accessed on the Wildland Fire Learning Portal,, or on the NWCG S-420 course page,

Submit the Student Self-Assessment and Student Biography to the Course Coordinator by [DATE AND METHOD (WFLP, email, mail, etc.)].


Please bring or have available electronically while in class:

Technical Considerations

All presentations should be downloaded and tested before the start of class to ensure compatibility with software.

PowerPoint presentations are built in Microsoft Office 2016. Saving them in an earlier version of PowerPoint may prevent some features from working correctly. Instructor notes are built in to the presentation slides under Presenter Notes.

For help, visit the Microsoft Office website,, or contact your local IT support personnel. 

Student Assessment

Students will be evaluated on their completion of pre-course work, participation in course discussions, and participation in the course simulation. Students are not evaluated on ability to perform a specific functional area but their ability to perform as a member of a Type 2 C&G. Coaches and cadre members will provide student feedback utilizing the S-420 Student Self-Assessment and Feedback Rubric. Several hours of course time are allotted on the final day for coaches to meet with students individually and provide performance feedback. Student attendance of all instructional units and participation in the course simulation is required for a certificate of course completion.

Course Evaluations

Use the NWCG Course Evaluation Feedback form to collect information critical to future training improvements.

Students and cadre members are asked to contribute course evaluations. Input is welcome on all aspects of the training course, including course content, pre-course work, reference materials, quality of instruction, delivery methods, and testing procedures.


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