Accountability edicts interfere with company officers` options
Peter R. Lucarelli
Bellevue (WA) Fire Department
Bill Manning`s article “The Accountability System” (Editor`s Opinion, July 1999) was among the best I have ever encountered about accountability. I could not agree more with his observations about the fire service`s “perpetuating the myth that plastic and fasteners can substitute for leadership.” It was the direct lack of leadership and accountability that led to the systems we have today. It is truly a CYA system and, as Manning points out, in many cases will relax the command structure at an incident in terms of knowing what firefighters are doing, where they are located, and–most important of all–what the outcome of what they are doing will be.
All this is required to make sure that officers have properly used the plastic, fasteners, and clipboards. This becomes indisputable evidence that they have followed industry standards and have, therefore, provided for the accountability of their resources. If a safety officer has been assigned and the department has a risk analysis element in its SOPs, it is home free in terms of firefighter safety.
I agree also with Manning`s observation that “The company officer must be given the opportunity to leverage his leadership and fireground management skills where the rubber meets the road.” I believe that this ties directly into the two-in/two-out issue, especially for small departments. Almost all fire departments had a two-in policy (buddy system). The two-out requirement will prove to be counterproductive for most departments. Company and battalion officers have been stripped of their ability to safely deploy initial resources at a structure fire. Where no rescue situation is likely, the initial company must wait for interior attack until a RIT or standby team is in position. This results in small fires becoming unnecessarily bigger. This leads to firefighters having more exposure to harm while the public tries to understand and questions what has happened to its fire department: Why are they waiting to enter a structure until a fire gets larger and there is more property damage? It questions whether the cost of the fire department is worth the expense.
The part of Manning`s editorial I do not agree with is the perception that fire chiefs are in partnership with politicians and city managers to reduce staffing. I have 36 years of experience in this business, 27 years with the Los Angeles City Fire Department. I left as assistant chief to become chief of the Bellevue (WA) Fire Department. I know of no fire chief who has advocated cutting staffing. I do know of some who have not provided the leadership in planning for the future and were left behind as resources became more tight. In my opinion, and contrary to stated public comments, the two-in/two-out issue was all about adding/maintaining staffing for large fire departments. In the long run, firefighter safety will not be better served.