Functional Fireground Accountability, Part 2: Tools and Technologies


Part 1 was published in the June 2012 issue.

Part 1 discussed the foundation of an accountability system—the basic structure to which you can add additional tools and technology to build a system geared to your department. As noted in Part 1, tools and technology cannot replace a good organizational accountability system, but they can enhance and complement your overall accountability system. Some of these tools and technologies are discussed below.

Personnel tags. Many departments are already using some type of basic or advanced personnel tag or passport system. Tags can identify which firefighters are part of a specific crew during an emergency. Individual personnel tags may be attached to an apparatus accountability ring or board to reflect the individuals assigned to that apparatus/crew at that particular incident. If at any time the incident commander (IC) wants to identify the individuals assigned to the E-301 crew, for example, the E-301 accountability ring or board can be referenced to see whose tags are attached.

In career departments, tags can be assembled for each apparatus at shift change. If personnel assignments on apparatus change during the shift, update the apparatus ring or board, and move the individual tags with the personnel to their new assignment.

Volunteer departments can assemble tags for crews as they arrive at the station to staff apparatus. Each member staffing an apparatus for response to an incident can hand his personnel tag to the apparatus officer, who adds all of them to the apparatus accountability ring or board. Individuals who arrive independently in personal vehicles at an incident and are assigned to a crew should add their tags to that crew’s apparatus ring before engaging in operations.

It might also be beneficial to identify what position each individual is staffing on each apparatus (i.e., officer, driver, firefighter #1, firefighter #2). Many departments are using or contemplating using personal alert safety system (PASS) devices with a wireless radio transmitter. (This technology will be discussed later.) When the transmitting PASS device goes into alarm, it sends a signal to a monitoring base outside. Unless a PASS device is purchased for each firefighter and is programmed to show that individual’s name, the only thing identified may be an alias such as “Engine 33 Driver.” Being able to identify the E-33 driver by name and possibly photo may be critical in locating and confirming the well-being of that person. It is also important to confirm that the unconscious firefighter the rapid intervention crew (RIC) just pulled from the building is the one whose PASS device was indicated by the electronic monitoring system. Photo 1 shows an apparatus accountability ring with a separate color-coded and labeled tag for each position.

 Individual personnel accountability tags
(1) Individual personnel accountability tags are attached to a color-coded and labeled tag that identifies each individual’s position within the crew or on the apparatus. (Photos by Chris Langlois.)

Command worksheets. The fireground can quickly become dynamic and complex, especially when multiple crews arrive and begin to be deployed. Operations that involve more than one or two units/crews should prompt the IC to start writing things down. Relying on memory alone has been shown to be a contributing factor in incidents when accurate accountability suddenly became a critical component. A simple command worksheet (photo 2) maintained by the IC can help to organize the operation and to track and continue to answer the who, what, and where accountability questions throughout the incident.

command worksheet
(2) A command worksheet should answer the following questions: Who is here? What are they doing? Where are they doing it?

Chief’s aide. Some departments may refer to this position as a job aide, a field incident technician, or an accountability manager. This individual assists the IC with tracking and maintaining accountability. The IC has a lot to do and think about and can benefit from having someone who can help to keep track of who, what, and where. This person can help to maintain the command worksheet, assist the IC with radio monitoring, add an extra pair of eyes and ears on the fireground, and sometimes even act as a sounding board for the IC’s ideas. With staffing and personnel at such a premium these days, especially in volunteer organizations, many departments may not be able to afford to take a firefighter off a hoseline to make him the chief’s aide. However, if you have members who are at a point in their fire service career where they no longer want to “gear up and go interior” or retired members who still want to be active in some way, they can continue to contribute to the department by serving in this position. Train them for this position, and they can make a great contribution to an operation.


For the past several decades, the fire service has been a proponent of interior structural firefighting in immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) conditions. This was largely a result of better personal protective equipment (PPE) including self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and modern turnout clothing. Such developments have allowed us to get in and perform search and rescue under previously untenable conditions and to attack fires where they start prior to allowing them to escape the structural envelope. But interior firefighting and search operations force us to rapidly make decisions that inevitably affect firefighters’ lives—to enter or not to enter. For the most part, the default has become to enter the structure, offensively, aggressively, unless otherwise ordered or obviously indicated. We don’t, after all, know if someone is trapped inside or not until we search, put out the fire, or both. So we tend to err on the side of civilian safety. We go until we know.

If we have an adequate, prescribed response, we can get away with this most of the time. If aggressive interior operations are aided by aggressive ventilation and support tactics, command, control, and accountability, we are predominantly successful. We have taken calculated risks to save valuable property and savable lives. It is when we step outside of this box that things tend to go sideways. If any of the critical supporting elements are missing, the risk goes off the charts. Examples of some of the elements that can go wrong include the following: lack of information, inadequate size-up, fire burning longer than anticipated, lack of ability to hit the fire with water, complacency, and many others.

When the first-arriving firefighters make rapid entry, whether for search or fire attack, and command officers show up later, firefighters often take what they assume is an acceptable risk. That risk often results in an immediate lapse of situational awareness and accountability, especially when the critical supporting elements are not provided by some means. However, time and time again, firefighters have rushed into the typical residential fire with one or more of the lapses in situational awareness and built-in safety. Most of the time, we walk away. Sometimes, we experience a near-miss, and sometimes worse.

Where does the responsibility for accountability fall? Is it the responsibility of the first-arriving firefighters or company officers, command level officers, department administration, or governing body? The responsibility for accountability rests with all of us.

The Firefighter

Every firefighter has a base level of training and experience that, hopefully, includes basic formation of attitudes that should foster respect for chain of command and senior members. Firefighter certification courses, academies, and the early establishment of self-discipline set the stage (yes, even in a volunteer department). This helps protect new firefighters from the perils of their own lack of experience until they gain some. If they pay attention to conscientious mentors and officers, they will learn proper attitudes and risk-taking levels. During field apprenticeship (probation), they will also learn prevalent accountability practices and other protocols per their department’s written standard operational procedures (SOPs), as well as field practice.

As soon as firefighters complete basic certification training levels and gain some fireground experience, they should be expected to demonstrate the following tasks on the fireground:

  • Check, don, and properly use PPE and SCBA without immediate supervision.
  • Take orders and/or conduct preassigned SOPs accurately and timely, in a safe manner (i.e., bring assigned tools; perform x, y, z).
  • Work under supervision and as a member of a firefighting team to conduct search, fire attack, ventilation, and so on.
  • Communicate any status updates, air levels, personnel accountability reports, and so on to their immediate supervisor following the incident command system/SOP.
  • Exit or move with the rest of the team intact, checking in with command prior to moving on to any other function or area.
  • Call a Mayday for themselves or others.
  • Conduct basic survival maneuvers.

If members cannot do these things well, it will be impossible for command level officers to maintain functional accountability.

There have been cases when a member was presumed to be at the scene working with “other” crews performing duties but was later found dead; he had become separated during the incident. Firefighters should be aware that they are their fellow firefighters’ keeper and should be trained “to remember with whom you came, know where they are at all times, and make sure they go back with you.” It’s as simple as that. They must be taught, “If they aren’t with you, you absolutely have the responsibility to find out why and where they are.”

In some cases, firefighters were feeling ill following an incident or a shift and died a short time later. Maybe if someone had taken the extra step of insisting that those firefighters got medical attention or followed up on the firefighters, those cases might have ended differently.

Company Officers, Lieutenants, Captains …

The company officer level (including lieutenants, captains, or whoever is in the seat on any incident) takes on a new level of responsibility. Not only are they responsible for their own accountability, but they are also tasked with making sure their team is ready to function, has its PPE in order, and is “checked in” to the accountability system. This usually involves the member’s tag in some form or other, depending on the system used, being on the rig. These officers must be prepared to report for their company members at all times during incident operations, maintain their whereabouts in limited visibility and IDLH situations, take command as a first-arriving officer, set the initial strategy and tactics in motion, call for additional resources, practice crew resource management, and—most importantly—decide the appropriate level of risk based on the situation (to enter or not to enter).

When in a working command mode, a company officer must also account for other companies coming in until another officer relieves him. If the situation warrants, the officers may have to pass down tactical responsibilities and team supervision to an experienced senior crew member and then establish a formal command post outside of the IDLH atmosphere to coordinate and track incoming resources. Hopefully, a chief officer (or command level officer) is shortly behind; however, if at any time the ball is dropped, accountability goes out the window, and incident coordination usually follows.

At this time, a good communication model and a simplified tactical chart or worksheet is needed. If your communication model includes everyone responding to the scene giving their own approach report or everyone on the scene trying to talk directly with command, you are in trouble. The sure way to miss something is to allow unnecessary radio chatter. A communication policy needs to be enforced. Encourage members to conduct important tactical communication through the chain of command. Then, repeat the critical information for all to hear.

If multiple companies are responding, it is important to document the following:

  • Where they are assigned.
  • What their assignment is.
  • Who they are (including a PAR headcount).
  • Air levels, if they are going inside the IDLH situation.
  • If they are entering the IDLH area, they should also have a time stamp of the time they went in and the time they came out.

A small tactical worksheet will allow for simple shorthand marks to document this information quickly and easily. For example, if Engine 27 was assigned to perform fire attack on Division 1 with a PAR of three and an air level of 4,250 pounds per square inch (psi), the shorthand might look like this: FA-E27-D1-3-4,250 (add a time stamp). Since fire attack, search and rescue, ventilation, and rapid intervention crew functions take place frequently, the tactical worksheet can already include these fields, making the shorthand even shorter. Transferring command to the first-arriving command-level officer is a breeze with a chart. Without it, it’s just an estimate. If you use a laminated sheet with a dry erase marker, status updates are easy. A dry erase marker can also be used on the windows or sides of the apparatus for quick tactical charting.

Figure 1. Operational Mesh Network
mesh network
Example of a mesh network as found in RF PASS devices and RF SCBA. (Illustration by Dan Miller.)

The company officer must account for crew members responding and returning as well. If someone is going to make sure that each crew member is in good health following an incident or a shift, this officer should be the one. Take the responsibility to ask and to follow up no matter what it takes. The bumper critique (hot-wash) is a good time to ask if anyone has any injuries or symptoms of illness. Be sincere.

Incident reporting becomes a function of accountability also. Make sure the incident reports reflect the incident accurately from start to finish, including any firefighter exposures or injuries. An accurate accounting of the personnel and resources present, time on scene, their assignments (actions taken), and tools/equipment/supplies used is important for short-term (after-action) and long-term reports, supporting documentation of employee exposure, injury, and so on.

Command Level Officers

In a perfect world, a command-level officer arrives before or at the same time as the first-due heavy apparatus. More often than not, the apparatus arrives first, establishes command, begins work, and then the command officer arrives later. If arriving with or before the apparatus, the command officer could set strategy and tactics as well as the appropriate risk level prior to putting crews to work. A strong but calm presence is critical.

Using tactical worksheets and PAR reports are necessary to begin and to maintain functional accountability. Crews may arrive almost simultaneously, and each needs an assignment (if not preassigned by SOP) and a destination. If they do not automatically report their PAR levels, command must ask for them.

As soon as possible, in a working incident of any kind, a job aide should be assigned to assist with maintaining the tactical worksheet and with monitoring communications for firefighters in distress. This person should also be able to alert the IC to crews that have not checked in so that a PAR can be ascertained. This “accountability coordinator” will be very busy and can remove a ton of burden from the IC while reducing the chance for a missed communication, such as a Mayday. Modern electronic accountability systems require close attention that an IC may not be able to afford.

There is one more question that should be asked: “Is your accountability system as effective on wildland/brush/grass fires as it is on structure fires?” Try to account for every apparatus and firefighter from every mutual-aid department coming to a large interface fire. It is difficult, but it is very critical that you practice functional accountability in the wildland interface setting also. If you are used to structural fires, you will be surprised at how many lapses of safety and situational awareness surface in wildland fires.


There has been a recent surge in PASS devices, firefighter locators, and similar technology that use high-tech gadgetry in an attempt to improve fire scene accountability. Some features of these systems are beneficial in that they give us a way to better monitor and communicate with our personnel in the danger zone. Some are not as functional as they should be in allowing firefighters to do what firefighters do while improving their safety during fireground operations.

Figure 2. Mesh System Repaired
Practicing two-in/two-out will aid the self-repairing mesh network
Practicing two-in/two-out will aid the self-repairing mesh network, especially in the early stages of the incident when fewer personnel are on scene. (Illustration by Dan Miller.)

Wireless accountability systems are in their infancy; they will continue to evolve and revolutionize the way we account for our personnel on the emergency scene. However, a department interested in buying such a system needs to research its needs and the capabilities of the technology solution carefully. Each system has operating principles that may or may not be a good fit for a department.

Each department or group of departments in a geographical area tends to have its own operating style. These styles include everyday practices such as radio communications, command practices, mutual-aid practices, preassignments (or lack of), and standard complements for each type of alarm. Buying a system without research and hands-on trials in mock incident responses using your operating style can lead to disappointment or failure.

Low-tech systems can be just as effective. It is critical that a fire department master charts, tags, boards, and the like prior to moving into a high-tech solution. If you aren’t good at practicing your low-tech system, you likely don’t know what functional accountability is all about. You will be more susceptible to fall for whatever a salesperson tells you you need instead of already knowing. You will also be susceptible to a complete accountability breakdown when the high-tech system fails because of dead batteries, radio interference, structural interference, a software glitch, or some other problem.

Not everyone needs a high-tech wireless accountability system. But, like cell phones, everyone will probably own one sooner or later. It is important that you have a basic understanding of the technology, terms, limitations, and important differences among the various systems prior to purchase.

However, as with anything else, there are limitations. For example, with a nozzle, the more pressure you give it, the better the stream is, but only until you reach critical velocity. Then the stream begins to become unpredictable and has less-than-optimal reach and form. The same applies to mesh radio networks. If you stay within design limits, more active RF PASS devices on the scene are better. If you exceed design limitations, it’s anyone’s guess. Many RF PASS devices never get field-tested in the research and development phase with more than 100 or so units active. The expense of experimenting with a large test group is usually too high for the manufacturers to justify, especially in today’s highly competitive, rapid concept-to-market environment. If manufacturers spend years in design and development, competitors will pass them up.

One problem with the RF PASS that will likely occur and for which you should be prepared is signal attenuation. Some of the things that block or “attenuate” the signals are concrete, steel, operating below grade, and distance. Test any proposed system in the predominant infrastructure types in your response territory. They will undoubtedly involve most construction types, some below-grade spaces, confined spaces, hazmat target hazards, and possibly wildland areas (ours did not). If, for example, you are used to operating with very few personnel on large sites, the radio signals may not make it back to the console. Even human bodies absorb radio signals and may keep them from reaching their destination. Metals tend to reflect radio signals, which may not help them reach their destination.

Another problem is RF interference. Almost any occupied building will have a possibility of RF interference in this day and age. Some of the causes of RF interference are cordless phones, wireless routers, built-in radio frequency identification (RFID) systems for inventory, and personnel tracking. Walk through the local hospital and look at the multitude of wireless systems in use. If your system doesn’t work there, you have a problem. Wireless is everywhere these days. These signals may render your RF PASS system completely useless. Test it. Plan for it. Make sure your plan includes the necessary redundancies and work-arounds where it doesn’t work.

Our initial research study involved bread-and-butter infrastructure and only three demo RF PASS devices from each of two trusted manufacturers. Adequate equipment was not allowed for full-scale operational trials involving a complete alarm assignment. As a result, many caveats were discovered during testing and evaluation after the purchase. For example, it was found that the system may not function as designed if initial RIC personnel are not in place. This same situation is fairly common early in an incident when an “incipient” condition exists and all personnel are not yet on location. This was demonstrated during ad hoc training at several fire stations. Personnel were dispatched into the fire station basement with the accountability console in the command car in the parking lot. With two firefighters in the below-grade danger zone and no one else in place wearing the activated equipment, the signals did not always reach the accountability console because heavy concrete, steel, and earth attenuated the signals.

It was determined that you must have “two-out” to go with your “two-in” firefighters and that the two-out must have their RF PASS devices enabled to act as repeaters for the two-in. The two-out need to be in a location that allows for quick rescue of the two-in, which will also put them in the optimal position to complete the mesh network and allow the system to work. This was “by design” and was an operating principle that the engineers used when developing the system. They assumed that the fire department would be following recognized standards as an operating practice, even during training.

At first, the field personnel complained that the system didn’t work. It illustrated to the training staff that field personnel weren’t making two-in/two-out a training practice and that they may not be using it as a field practice as religiously as they should. This presented an “opportunity to remind” both command and line personnel that they had better be following the two-in/two-out standard, even during training. Although this was purposely emphasized during structured training on the system, it was not immediately practiced in the field operations and training.

This illustrated a potentially dangerous situation that was common practice on “typical” runs like automatic fire detection incidents, for example. Not everyone was turning on their cylinders or enabling their RF SCBA devices because of the perceived nonthreat of the situation. In this very common scenario, firefighters inside a large commercial building looking for the source of an alarm may go “unmonitored” by the accountability console. They effectively get out of range. Unfortunately, their portable radios may not always function well in this environment either. This revelation caused increased diligence about reminding personnel to turn on their cylinders to enable their RF SCBA device, even when on “standby” duty. It also enforced the need to practice providing RIC personnel in strategic locations, even during nonthreat situations. Sometimes smoke or fire is found in these situations. It happens. Practice proper procedures on all incidents.

As an alternative to extra personnel in a smaller department where secondary resources may take time to arrive, consider placing a zone repeater immediately outside the entry point to the area in question. This will assist the signals in reaching the command post, and vice versa. Eye openers such as this caused the aforementioned department to implement operational improvements that were required to use the system as it was designed. It also helped it to be more prepared and less complacent overall when it came to functional accountability.

Accountability Consoles

Accountability consoles come in various forms and are morphing almost daily. The accountability console is the heart of the wireless accountability system. Study it carefully to see how it will fit into your existing accountability system. To start, be prepared to ask several questions about the system—for example, will it enhance and work along with your current charting and tag collection system? Is it customizable so that the “common terminology” in your fire practice may continue to be followed, or will it necessitate that you change the way you operate? Is the change needed?

Was it designed around a structural firefighting operational model or for a larger emergency management role? Can it be used for both? Which do you need? Can it log personnel who do not carry an RF PASS or RF SCBA? Is it capable of logging/tracking personnel in a support role on the emergency scene? Can it log mutual-aid firefighters who use incompatible equipment? What is the effective range? How are personnel checked in and out of the system? Is user intervention required? Is there a PAR timer built in?

What features does the console have—air-monitoring, PASS, evacuation, temperature? Are two-way communications possible? How are personnel assigned a task within the system? It is much quicker to check personnel in and assign them by company rather than by individual. Is this possible in the software?

Are personnel tracked by name or alias? Is it customizable? How do you verify that the person found is the person for whom you were looking?

Will it simply be a logical accountability system, or can it be part of a functional accountability system? What happens when more than one accountability console is active on the scene? Will the system work with your neighbors’ systems? Will it interfere? Will it work alongside? Or, is it necessary to buy additional new equipment at the same time to ensure compatibility? Is the software easy to use? What happens if power to the console is lost and then regained? It happens!

Where is the antenna located? How portable is the entire setup? Can accountability be transferred to another console? Can one console override another console’s orders? These are just a few questions. They will lead to other questions that will eventually lead you down the right path.

Things you should make sure to include—there may be others also—are the following:

  • The accountability console software, if used, should be on a dedicated laptop computer that has no other responsibilities. Mobile data terminals (MDTs) are not a good accountability console. Too many other systems are tied into the MDT that may interfere with accountability-critical operations.
  • An area to operate the accountability console should include room to set up and work with all accountability tools (boards, charts, and so on) out of the direct effects of the weather and away from other distractions (such as a command module in the rear of a chief’s car).
  • The IC may operate the console early in the incident, but a more permanent accountability manager should be predefined in the SOP. This is a complicated enough job to have its own dedicated personnel, preferably more than one person.
  • Everyone should be trained/trainable on using the charts, boards, accountability console, and so on. Although functional accountability is a critical job, the system and software should be understood by all, especially the basic features of PAR, PASS monitoring, evacuation, and air-monitoring (if available).
  • Having the wireless accountability system antenna outside the vehicle is best for communications. It should be oriented vertically, with as few obstructions as possible.
  • Practices/procedures should include redundant methods of accountability and communication as a verification of what you see on the chart or screen. Build them in.

Tracking Devices

Tracking devices are tools that can be used to help locate firefighters who are in distress if they are wearing a compatible RF PASS or RF SCBA. Some departments have bought or are purchasing tracking devices as an accountability system. This should not be. They are not a replacement for accountability consoles and by themselves do not make an accountability system. They simply alert when within range of a firefighter whose PASS device has alerted. They do not monitor personnel on the scene who are not in distress. They do not track assignments and personnel on an emergency scene, nor do they record the individuals assigned to a company, a crew, or an entry team; the assignment for each team; or the team’s current activities, as per the NFPA 1500, 2007 edition, requirement for an accountability system. If you need to use one, you need a good functional accountability system to narrow your search and to verify the identification of the person you find.

Keeping up with the technology is important, but there are more important issues, such as compatibility with neighboring departments, functional accountability, user friendliness, finding something that works in your environment, and budget. The most important thing you will learn from testing and training will be whether the system is compatible with your operating practices. In and of themselves high-tech tools are not “accountability.” You cannot buy accountability. Accountability is akin to responsibility; it is what we do to operate responsibly that keeps us accountable. It is necessary for all levels—from command down to the newest member.

RF PASS Devices

PASS devices come in many forms. RF-enabled PASS devices certainly have their place in the high-tech world of emergency response in which we live. The simpler stand-alone RF PASS devices transmit PASS alerts to the accountability console or tracking device outside in the “safe zone.” The data transmitted includes a loud audible alert, plus the “alias” of whoever is in alert.

Depending on the design of the PASS device, many false alerts may be sent. You must practice a system of communication that addresses each alert and rules out actual emergencies. This system must be strictly adhered to so that alerting PASS alarms never get ignored.

Two-way communication is possible with some modern RF PASS devices. For example, when a PASS device goes into alert, the accountability manager can send an acknowledgment to the down firefighter that the signal has been received. This acknowledgment shows up on the firefighter’s individual PASS device. This is a system of verification and reassurance and should be followed up with verbal communications whenever possible.

Depending on the system, EVAC signals may also be sent by the accountability console and received by the RF PASS device. The firefighter then acknowledges the signal with the push of a button, letting the accountability manager know he has been informed. This must be followed up with verbal and physical verification that all personnel have made it out safely. Following this critical functional accountability step, it is then documented in the logical accountability system (chart, computer, etc.).

Some RF PASS devices are capable of sending “elective” signals to the accountability console, such as a “Withdraw” signal, letting the accountability manager know that personnel are leaving the “danger zone.”

Each of these “signals” needs an SOP associated with it—for example, one department may interpret the acknowledgment of an EVAC signal to mean that the firefighter is bailing out ASAP. Another department may interpret the acknowledgment to mean that the firefighter is already safely out. If working with close mutual-aid partners or in a borderless response system, it is important that all stakeholders interpret the signals in a like manner. Are you working in a career department? How many times have you heard the old axiom: “Each shift acts like its own fire department”? Misinterpreting these “signals” can lead to firefighter injury or death.

With RF SCBA, air levels can also be monitored from the outside. Stand-alone PASS manufacturers may develop adjuncts to allow for air level monitoring; so far, this has not been done. Among other things, this aids in the use of rule-of-air management procedures. Remote air level monitoring lets command know in advance when replacement personnel may be needed. Resources can be anticipated and staged for earlier replacement of personnel on the danger zone—for example, if command is notified that the first interior search crew will not be able to complete the primary search on its existing air, command can anticipate and send replacement crews early. In a relay-race fashion, the first crew hands the proverbial baton to the replacement crew to continue where it left off. This is a win-win situation for firefighters and potential victims.

One thing we have found during our research is that this two-way signaling (EVAC, withdraw, air level, and so on) becomes a unique nonverbal communications “back-channel.” Even if you can’t get a word in edgewise because of the chaos on the radio or there is an open microphone on the channel, it may be possible to let someone know the following:

  • I’m in trouble and need help! (PASS)
  • Help is on the way! (PASS Acknowledged)
  • Get out! (EVAC)
  • I’m on my way out! (EVAC Acknowledged)
  • My air level is 50 percent. (Visual indicator on console)
  • My air level is 25 percent! (Visual and alert indicator on console)

All of this communication is possible because of the integration of wireless radio signals. Early RF PASS used direct radio signals to reach the accountability console. Newer models incorporate self-repairing mesh radio networks built into the devices. With a self-repairing mesh network (some call it a multipath network), each RF PASS/RF SCBA on the scene acts as a repeater. The more personnel on the scene with active RF devices, the better the network becomes, within certain limits.


• Accountability console: Software and hardware in any form used to monitor and/or communicate with personnel in the hot zone. It may allow for personnel to be grouped into divisions, groups, or other assignments for “logical accountability” (see definition). Most use a notebook computer, software, and wireless interface; others may be hybrid stand-alone devices.

• Alias: Variable unit name or one that is programmed into a personal accountability safety system (PASS) device by the department following purchase. For example, the alias for a PASS device assigned to Engine 1, Firefighter 2 might be designated “E1-FF2.” The same alias is usually programmed into portable radios and other equipment. They can then be tied to the same user, allowing a firefighter’s identity to be associated with a PASS device, depending on the riding list. It is critical that the PASS device alias and radio alias match for each user.

• Company/crew accountability report (CAR): Verification that all companies or crews under the supervision level are accounted for and okay. Used where more than one company/crew is being supervised by a single leader—for example, a division, group, strike team, or task force consisting of several crews IS being supervised.

• Drop-readers: Small radio frequency identification (RFID) readers strategically located in and around the emergency scene to track personnel as they move from zone to zone, and then transmit those data to an accountability console. Each drop-reader forms its own zone. Data transmission from the responder to the accountability console, and vice versa, is done through the drop-readers. Personnel are located by their proximity to a drop-reader, within a certain range.

• Evacuation signal (EVAC): Signal to drop whatever you are doing and evacuate immediately. No time is wasted in picking up equipment, especially hoselines.

• Functional accountability: To achieve functional accountability, at any given moment, you must know who they are, what they are doing, and where they are on the incident scene. To accomplish this, your working crews must have an assignment, communications, and crew integrity. To maintain it, they must give you timely status reports. Your logical accountability system is then used to actively track their movements and activities. At any time, you should be able to determine if someone is missing and that person’s exact identity. When located, you should be able to verify that you have found the right individual(s).

• Logical accountability: The use of tags, charts, software/hardware technology, and so on, to monitor and/or communicate with personnel, track status, assignments, and so on. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, requires an accountability system that “tracks assignments and personnel on an emergency scene and should record the individuals assigned to a company, a crew, or an entry team; the assignment for each team; and the team’s current activities.” Using logical accountability is just one part of functional accountability.

• Personnel accountability report (PAR): Radio or electronic verification that all personnel under the supervision level are accounted for and okay. May also be visual. However, electronic PAR may be telling you only that the electronics are okay, not the individual. Follow-up is necessary.

• RFID: This is a generic term for technologies that use radio waves to automatically identify people or objects. There are several methods of identification, but the most common is to store a serial number that identifies a person or an object, and perhaps other information, on a microchip attached to an antenna (the chip and the antenna together are called an “RFID transponder” or “RFID tag”). The antenna enables the chip to transmit the identification information to a reader. The reader converts the radio waves reflected back from the RFID tag into digital information that can then be passed on to computers that can make use of it. The most common use of this technology in the fire service today is in RFID cards that not only allow building security access but also allow for on-scene accountability and numerous other uses.

• RF interference: Radio frequency (RF) interference refers to electromagnetic signals that may overpower or interfere through harmonics with the radio signals produced by your wireless devices. Even the wireless devices we use on the scene may interfere (radios, cell phones, WiFi).

• RF-PASS: A PASS device that uses a radio frequency (RF) signal to communicate with an accountability console outside in the cold zone. It may be integrated with SCBA or separate.

• RF-SCBA: SCBA with integrated RF features including PASS, air-level monitoring, evacuation, and so on.

• Signal attenuation: Weakened signals caused by distance or physical objects reflecting or absorbing the signals.

• Tracking device: Handheld device capable of using a directional antenna/receiver to follow electromagnetic signals or sound waves transmitted from a firefighter’s PASS device. This signal is followed by the rapid intervention crew/team to locate the down firefighter. In the future, some may use inertia sensors built into the SCBA as well as latitude, longitude, and elevation with regard to fixed references on the exterior (like your fire engine, for example). Eventually, this will allow pinpoint locating of down firefighters including height above ground level. Accessing the down firefighter is and always will be a challenge.

• Withdraw signal: May be sent to the accountability console by some PASS devices as a signal that the individual is leaving the danger zone (OEM system dependent). May also be an “order” from command to leave the danger zone in an orderly manner, bringing tools and equipment unless advised otherwise.

• Zone repeaters: Signal repeaters that boost and enhance the radio signals that allow communications between PASS devices and the accountability console. Most often used in large buildings or wide-area incident scenes.

DAN MILLER, a 31-year year veteran of the fire service, has served in volunteer, combination, and career departments, including having served for more than eight years on Omaha (NE) Fire Department’s Rescue 1. He has held the ranks of firefighter, fire apparatus engineer, lieutenant, captain, assistant chief, and chief. He is a captain with the Omaha Fire Department Training and Special Operations Bureau. His fire service certifications include National Fire Protection Association firefighter II, instructor II, fire officer I, incident safety officer, and EMT-I and technician and instructor level certifications in hazmat, high angle rescue, trench rescue, and confined space. He teaches part time for the Nebraska State Fire Marshal Training Division. He has an associate degree in electronics and in fire science technology.

CHRIS LANGLOIS, a 24-year veteran of the fire service, has served in volunteer, combination, and career departments and has held the ranks of firefighter, driver, captain, and chief officer. He is a captain with the Omaha (NE) Fire Department Training and Special Operations Bureau and serves as a plans manager with the Nebraska Task Force 1 US&R team. His national certifications include firefighter II, instructor II, fire officer II, incident safety officer, and NREMT-paramedic. He has an associate degree in fire science, a bachelor’s degree in public fire administration, and a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership.

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