As I pointed out in “Account-ability and the Incident Management System” (Fire Engineering, December 1997), current accountability systems for the most part only tell us who is inside and who is outside of the building. That’s merely part of the battle. Of larger concern (when the building “acts up” or if the fire starts to overtake us) is knowing where the crews are inside the building. If the incident commander (IC) knows that no firefighters are in imminent danger when these minor setbacks occur, he can react to these mishaps with deliberate actions-but not chaos. In my mind, an effective accountability system must tell us not only who is inside the building but also where the crews are inside that building.
Our department uses a citywide riding list and individual 4- 2 6-inch PlexiglasT boards on every apparatus. Chiefs carry this list during the tour. Officers are required at roll call to write the names of all members riding the apparatus for that tour. The boards may or may not be collected during an incident.
We use a strong incident management system (IMS) at incidents. The IC is required to make assignments to incoming companies, and we are working with our officers to enforce the behavior of informing us at all times of their location inside the building. We are also stressing crew integrity and that crews must enter and remain together as much as possible. Incident commanders (chief officers) are working at tracking crews on a status sheet or board by assignment and location.
Our current system is very inexpensive and has everything we need to track crews inside and out. Strong leadership and basic IMS practices, coupled with officer discipline and teamwork, will allow us to successfully track crews at fires and other incidents. What we need now is practice, practice, practice!
-John (Skip) Coleman, deputy chief of operations, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue; author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997); editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering; and member of the FDIC Educational Committee.
Question:What accountability system does your department use, and do you consider your current system successful?
Larry Anderson, deputy chief,
Dallas (TX) Fire Department
Response: The Dallas Fire Department uses a “passport” personnel accountability system. Each firefighter is issued a personnel accountability tag (PAT) with his name and rank engraved on it. On reporting for duty, each firefighter places his PAT on a responder board carried on the dashboard of the apparatus. The company officer is responsible for ensuring that the responder board reflects the crew actually riding the apparatus at any given time. The company officer carries a passport tag marked with the company identification-“Dallas Engine 33,” for example. At one-alarm incidents (or incidents to which fewer than six companies respond), where the span of control is small, the IC normally maintains an awareness of the location and function of all companies without using passports.
At incidents that have been sectored, company officers surrender their passports to their respective sector commanders on reporting to the sector. The sector commander has attached to his turnout coat a ring holding the passports of all companies assigned to his sector. Anytime company members leave a sector, they must retrieve their passports and take them with them to their new assignments. If a company is sent to rehab, members must check in with the rehab officer and, once again, surrender their passports. Whenever the IC initiates a roll call, each sector commander checks with all companies on his passport ring. Once a personnel accountability report (PAR) is obtained from all companies in a sector, the sector commander reports a PAR to Command. Roll calls are initiated at various benchmarks during an operation, including the following: a report that a firefighter is missing or trapped, a change from an offensive to a defensive strategy, a sudden hazardous event at the incident, a report of “out taps” for those incidents where personnel have entered the hazard zone, or before suspending the use of passports.
This system has served us well for more than seven years and has become firmly ingrained in our firefighters. Getting used to the routine was the toughest part. During my 30 years with the Dallas Fire Department, we have lost six firefighters in structure fires. I firmly believe they died because we did not know where they were. My greatest nightmare is to have that happen again. We have not lost a firefighter in a structure fire since we started personnel accountability, and I thank God for that. To that extent, I consider our accountability system successful, while I knock on wood for the rest of the afternoon.
Joseph A. Floyd, Sr., assistant chief,
Columbia (SC) Fire Department
Response: We use a passport system to track and account for fire personnel. Each member is issued two personnel identification (ID) tags with a self-fastening back. The tags are attached to the back of the firefighter’s helmet. At the beginning of an on-duty tour, personnel assigned to apparatus or another vehicle remove their ID tags from their helmets and place them on a board permanently located in the apparatus/vehicle cab. The other tag is placed on a transportable board (passport). Personnel reassigned to another station or unit take their ID tags with them. A firefighter going off-duty removes his tag from the board and passport and places it back on his helmet.
Each command vehicle carries extra blank ID tags to be used as temporary tags by persons (utility personnel, city officials, for example) not permanently issued tags. During single-company operations, the passport tags remain with the apparatus unless the IC issues other instructions. During multicompany operations, the IC will have the members of each company, including units/companies in staging, bring their passports to the command post and place them on a ring attached to the incident command board. The incident command board records the who, what, and where for each unit on-scene and is continually updated. Additional companies, unit(s), or other individuals report to the command post on arrival, have their IDs posted on the IC board, and receive their assignments. On leaving the incident, companies and personnel reclaim their passports. Should someone be unaccounted for, a “Code Red” is broadcast, and the IC conducts a PAR. When a Code Red is called, all personnel are to evacuate the affected area immediately. Drivers of all equipment on the scene are to turn on sirens and blow air horns for one minute. Central (911) is to stop all radio traffic on the channel in use, sound an alert tone, and repeat the Code Red message three times. Personnel are to drop what they are doing immediately. They are not to remove tools or perform any functions; they are only to get out. Personnel are to report to their company officers/supervisors for a head count, and Command is to be notified when all personnel are accounted for or if anyone is not accounted for. A roll call of units is necessary to determine if anyone is unaccounted for during an emergency incident. Command will then initiate the roll call by announcing the unit or sector designation first and then waiting for a response from that unit. The IC board will be the checklist for the roll call. If a company fails to return a PAR, the IC will immediately deploy a team to locate that crew.
Ken Folisi, battalion chief,
Lisle-Woodridge (IL) Fire District
Response: We believe that for any accountability system to work properly, well-trained and disciplined fire companies must work within a competent, organized incident management system. A functional accountability system must also be designed around department staffing and response procedure. With this in mind, our goal was to design a system that allows us to quickly and efficiently account for our personnel on the emergency scene. We wanted a system that would be accurate, easy to set up, and user-friendly and that would eliminate even the slightest delay in deploying companies on the emergency scene.
The following standard operating guideline (SOG) describes our system.
Title: SOG 1202-Personnel Accountability
Objective: To quickly and efficiently account for personnel on the emergency scene.
Guideline: At the beginning of the shift, no later than 07:05 hours, all company officers shall have accountability name tags of the members of their companies affixed to the two fire companies’ accountability control tags. One control tag shall be located on the vehicle dashboard; the other shall be affixed to the rear underside of the company officer’s helmet.
The battalion chief or his designee shall contact all stations to verify the personnel roster and riding positions and arrange the master accountability control board, with the appropriate personnel name tags correlated to the appropriate vehicle number tag. The master accountability control board will then be placed in the battalion chief’s car.
The individual station company officers shall notify the battalion chief or his designee of any changes in personnel assignment throughout the shift. At the emergency scene, the master accountability control board shall be located at the command post in a readily accessible area.
The incident commander shall be responsible for tracking on-scene companies throughout the incident. This shall be done in written form and kept at the command post.
As companies are assigned to sectors within the incident management system structure, the person responsible for those companies shall track the location and activities of those under his immediate supervision (sector). This is done by collecting the accountability tags from the underside of the company officer’s helmet. The incident commander is still ultimately responsible for tracking the assigned companies with regard to which sector they have been assigned.
Automatic-aid and mutual-aid companies shall hand off one of their accountability tags to the incident commander before they start their assigned activity and the second tag to their assigned supervisor. If automatic-aid or mutual-aid companies arrive at the emergency scene and it is necessary to start an assignment before Command is formally established, or if Command is at a location removed from their position, a company officer/accountability officer shall be responsible for getting the accountability tag(s) to Command.
When company officers are working with a full crew-e.g., using the fire apparatus engineer/driver as a member of the working company-the company officer shall notify Command that he is working with a “full crew.”
During emergency scene operations, at 20- to 30-minute intervals, incident command shall perform a personnel accountability report (PAR) of companies operating on the emergency scene. The PAR check can be assigned to the safety officer. The PAR check is completed by contacting individual companies. The company officer shall be responsible for accounting for the company members under his control as well as for stating the sector assignment. Example: “All companies from Command, PAR check: Engine 511” ellipse “All present assigned to Interior Sector”; “Truck 517” ellipse “All present assigned to Sector C”; “Medic 550” ellipse “All present assigned as rehab”; “Engine 541” ellipse “All present assigned to Sector A”; and so on. In the event of an emergency requiring immediate accountability, Command shall state via radio, “All companies from Command, Emergency Accountability.” All companies shall clear the fireground channel of all nonemergency radio traffic and immediately be prepared to report company accountability.
Command shall call each company operating on the scene, starting with those who may be in trouble. Other officers in supervision of multiple companies may answer for companies under their direct supervision. If a company does not report all present when called, then Safety, rapid intervention team (RIT), and all fireground companies are notified. Example: “All companies from Command, emergency accountability”: “Truck 537ellipse. Truck 537ellipse Safety, RIT, and all companies operating on the fireground, from Command: Truck 537 does not respond for accountability.” Command shall immediately establish a rescue sector and continue with the accountability check of the remaining operating companies.
This SOG has been in place since 1997. A recent scheduled review/revision of all our emergency response SOGs revealed no need to revise the original system. The SOG has been used successfully in downed/missing firefighter situations as well as whenever conditions at a structure fire call for a switch from offensive to defensive operations. Whenever members are ordered out of and off a structure, an accountability check is performed, and the SOG works exactly as intended. We encourage all fire departments to design and practice a functional accountability system.
Ronald Hiraki, chief of training,
Seattle (WA) Fire Department
Response: We initiated the Passport Accountability System in the late 1980s in response to a firefighter death. The system consists of attaching individual name tags to a “passport” representing the company or team. The company officer or team leader carries the passport and gives it to the appropriate supervisor when under that supervisor’s span of control. Matching helmet shields and other placards marked with the company or team designation are used to help identify members on the fireground. All of these items are attached with a self-fastening strip so that the system can be easily changed in the station or in the field if necessary.
The system was tested and refined by firefighters before being implemented in the entire department. The system was then demonstrated to fire departments throughout the county and was formally adopted on a countywide basis. The county formally adopted the hardware (name tags, passports, helmet shields, and status boards), a standardized lesson plan, and standard operating procedures. Minor modifications have been made to the system on a countywide basis during the past few years.
The hardware has been successfully used for the past 10 years. Our members recognize that the hardware is only a tool to help us keep track of each other. We recognize that true accountability is the responsibility of every individual member, who must look out for himself and his team members. As individuals and as a team, members must remember to keep their supervisors informed of their status at all times.
The Passport Accountability System has been successful for the Seattle Fire Department and has been adopted by many other departments.
Rick Lasky, chief,
Coeur d’Alene (ID) Fire Department
Response: We currently use the passport accountability system. It was adopted several years ago by the majority of the fire departments in our region. Like with any other accountability system or fire service tool, for that matter, support from the troops and the administration is needed to make the program successful. Department members are reminded that every officer is accountable for each member of his company and that every member of that company is accountable to his officer. If the members are not willing to use the system properly or don’t believe in it, or if administrators do not emphasize its importance, the program will most likely fail. The program has been very successful in our area.
Our accountability system works in the following fashion. Each department member is issued several self-fastening name tag bars to be used with a unit passport card or an accountability/status board. At the beginning of the tour of duty, on-duty personnel are required to place one of their name tags on the officer’s white passport card and on the apparatus’ red passport card (used as a backup for the white card), which are both on their assigned unit. The company officer is responsible for ensuring that all members in his company have submitted their name tags.
All of our apparatus and support and staff vehicles carry accountability/status boards that can be used at an incident for tracking purposes. The incident commander and sector officers are responsible for tracking passports on the scene. The responding officer is responsible for delivering the passport to those officers. We are fortunate that at most of our incidents we are able to use a staff member or one of our support personnel as a safety officer or accountability officer. Automatic-aid and mutual-aid companies, off-duty paid personnel, along with responding volunteer firefighters, furnish their passports and name tags to the incident commander, sector officer, or accountability officer on arrival at the scene.
In the past six months, we have had two Mayday situations. Having a strong accountability system in place made it possible to take a quick, accurate roll call. Once again, keep in mind that the system will work only if everyone believes in it, uses it properly, and supports it.
Garry Morris, assistant chief,
Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department
Response: The Phoenix Fire Department used from the early 1980s to 1991 a basic accountability system consisting of self-fastening name tags attached to the bunker coat collar. In 1990, we recognized that this system was inadequate, and the department initiated a research project to upgrade the system.
The research effort looked at any potential accountability system we could locate inside and outside the United States. Two model systems were eventually proposed-an individual plastic name tag turned in by the individual firefighter, a model used by the British fire service, and a system built around a modified Seattle passport system, in which the company officer turns in a plastic 3- 2 5-inch passport on which all crew members are listed. Both systems were field-tested for six months. The passport system, with additional modifications, was selected overwhelmingly.
The system includes the use of a passport with a hard copy listing of crew members. The engineer of the first engine to each side of the building or at the point of entry at a structure fire becomes the initial accountability officer. At significant incidents, staff members relieve the engineer of these duties, or a fire company is split up and individual members are assigned to each accountability location.
In our experience, it is absolutely essential that the passports and accountability be maintained at the point of entry. The accountability officers collect passports as crews enter and return them on exit. (To take name tags to a command post, as some departments do, severely compromises accountability tracking.) The accountability officer also monitors the expected exit time of crews and raises an alert if there is a delay.
The department also has a designated radio channel for accountability. As the incident escalates and “accountability officers” replace the engineers, these officers use this channel to monitor accountability among themselves and communicate with an accountability sector officer at the command post. These officers will have two radios-one on the tactical channel and one on the accountability channel. Our research reflects that the tactical channel will quickly become jammed with critical traffic if a firefighter is lost or trapped in the building. The second channel allows for accountability roll calls of all crews.
Another major component of our system is automatic roll calls (personnel accountability reports, or PARs). A PAR is mandated for the following situations:
- on declaration that the fire is under control,
- at the lapse of a 30-minute period,
- on the withdrawal of crews from the building when going defensive,
- on any report of a missing or trapped firefighter, and
- any time Command requests one.
Our system has proven successful from the perspectives of acceptance, high application on the fireground, and effectiveness in tracking personnel. The department continues to look for improvements and is monitoring technology to identify a means for improved accountability for firefighters.
Jim Murtagh, deputy chief,
Fire Department of New York
Response: Our department has a very detailed and deliberately redundant accountability system, and its implementation process starts long before the tour begins. Over the years, FDNY has established specific assignments for all its members and standard operating procedures for almost all of its operational possibilities. All members are taught and trained to understand the roles and requirements for each of these assignments and their relationships to the varied but predominant types of buildings in the city.
At the beginning of each tour of duty, the officer in command of every unit is required to prepare a unit riding list and verify that each member knows what his responsibilities are. Three copies of the riding list are made; one is carried by the officer in charge of the unit, a second is posted on the dashboard of the apparatus, and the third copy is posted on the wall near the fire station’s entrance. These riding lists identify by name all members working that tour and whether they are on a tour swap, working overtime, or on a detail from another unit. The list also identifies the position or duties of each member (chauffeur, nozzle, backup, roof, forcible entry, for example), the SCBA number they will be using, the tools they will carry, and the position on the apparatus they will be riding. Any changes of personnel or assignments that occur during the tour are reflected on the riding lists.
When the IC arrives at the scene, he will have a ticket that identifies the units responding to the scene and access to the riding lists on each apparatus. When the command board is set up, it reflects a complete listing of all units on-scene and their current assignments-operation, standby, or recuperation.
This combination of well-defined roles and responsibilities and specific assignments for all members, coupled with detailed riding lists available at three locations (two on-scene and one off-scene), tracking and controlling all units responding to the incident by dispatch and Command, and integrated SCBA-PASS alarms give the IC and the FAST units the information they will need to rapidly identify who may be missing and where to begin the search and rescue efforts should they become necessary.
Bob Oliphant, lieutenant,
Kalamazoo (MI) Dept. of Public Safety
Response: Our department’s accountability system consists of a board with hooks for holding individual tags. The hooks may represent various fireground functions. Personnel assigned to these functions place their personal tags on the respective hooks. Individual tags are snapped on the back of each person’s helmet and can be readily removed as assignments are made. Crew members arriving and beginning operations before the accountability system becomes operational leave their tags on a board attached to the inside door panel of the apparatus; the tags are collected later.
The only personnel actually accounted for are those assigned to tasks generally considered to be high risk such as interior extinguishment, search and rescue, and roof ventilation. Personnel assigned to setting up PPV fans or raising ladders would not be accounted for under most circumstances. This approach is more manageable than trying to account for everyone who shows up.
Our accountability system originated from another department that had been using it with good results and had refined it before we adopted it. The system is simple, manageable, and flexible. Personnel readily accepted it, and it is easy to implement. Depending on the nature of the incident, the IC can handle the system or it can be assigned as a specific function. As the incident progresses, accountability can be maintained as operations are added or removed.
Frank C. Schaper, chief,
St. Charles (MO) Fire Department
Response: Most departments in this area use some type of tag system. The tag system works in some situations, but not all. Departments using a tag system at large events find the system unwieldy and often unmanageable. While I was still with the City of St. Louis, the decision was made not to use a tag system. At that time, it was felt that a tag system for the St. Louis Fire Department would not meet the department’s needs. It also proved to be costly.
We looked for another method. Fire Commissioner and Chief Neil J. Svetanics (retired) asked Fire Alarm Manager Gregg Gerner and me to come up with a system. We were told it had to be simple, it had to work, and it had to be inexpensive to implement. We settled on the 20-minute Member Accountability Roll Call (MARC). [Editor’s note: The MARC is described in detail in the following response.] This system met the chief’s parameters. If your department uses incident command, comes to fire scenes on apparatus, has a team or company, and has a radio, you can use this system. How this system was developed and implemented is out of the scope of this Roundtable. Suffice it to say that the system works and integrates easily into present-day tag systems. Most departments in the St. Louis metro area have integrated the 20-minute MARC into their system.
Leigh Hollins, battalion chief,
Cedar Hammock and Southern
Manatee (FL) Fire Districts
Response: We use a combination of a “homegrown” system along with the more recognized Member Accountability Roll Call (MARC) system through the Manatee County Emergency Communications Center (ECC). Our homegrown system utilizes a small metal “dog tag” with a metal clip. The tag is placed on a ring in the apparatus to which the firefighter is assigned during the tour. In addition to the tags of the assigned members, a metal tag with the number of the apparatus is on the ring. In addition to this, the battalion chief places a hard copy of the daily assignment roster in the command vehicle each morning; the roster lists the assigned stations of the firefighters. Personnel swaps and a list of firefighters who normally would be on duty but who are off that day are also included, to avoid confusion.
If the accountability system must be implemented during an incident, an individual is assigned to retrieve the ring from each apparatus and to deliver the rings to Command. Command then has an accounting of who is assigned to which company. All staff personnel who arrive on the scene bring their tags to Command for accounting. Depending on the magnitude of the incident, the IC may also use a board to track companies and assignments.
In addition to the above mentioned system, we also use the MARC system, which is automatically initiated by the ECC on “tone out” of all structure fires. A timer is started for 15-minute MARCs. At each 15-minute MARC thereafter, the ECC advises Command of its second MARC, third MARC, and so on. The IC can use these MARCs to keep track of time for strategic/tactical/safety purposes, to take a roll call, and to perform an updated size-up, or the IC can choose to discontinue the MARC. Additionally, the IC may revise the interval of the MARC (a 10-minute MARC, for example) and may call for the MARC to be implemented at any type of call, such as a confined-space situation or a haz-mat incident.
We have had great success with the combination of these two types of accountability-related systems, which are very easy to implement and manage.
Marc D. Greenwood, lieutenant, Akron (OH) Fire Department
Response: Our department uses a triple-tiered accountability system. Its strengths are simplicity and utility. All members are issued three accountability tags: Two are apparatus tags; the third tag is self-fastened to the underside of the helmet brim.
Level One accountability is strictly maintained 24 hours a day. Members affix their apparatus tags to the apparatus ring at the beginning of the shift. Members who must leave their stations for any reason remove their accountability tags. A firefighter going to another station places the tag in the apparatus at the new duty station. An administrative officer checking for personnel can determine at a glance which personnel are assigned to a particular apparatus.
Level Two accountability goes into effect on receipt of a second-alarm fire. The IC confirms the second alarm, sets up a command post, and identifies the location of the command post. All command personnel wear vests identifying their command positions. All units must be logged on the IC status board or an IC worksheet for the duration of multiple-alarm incidents. During Level Two accountability, all fire companies must remain intact. Assignments are made by company designation. The deployment of intact companies maximizes teamwork and minimizes freelancing, which is the scourge of the fire service.
Level Three accountability is called for whenever it is necessary to identify individuals who may be missing. It is also used after an explosion, a partial collapse, or an emergency evacuation. Level Three is announced over the primary radio channel. There must be face-to-face contact to account for all members. Company officers report to their sector officers after determining all their personnel are present. Sector/ group/division supervisors will have face-to-face contact with their company officers prior to reporting to the IC. If a firefighter is missing, the IC obtains the missing person’s name from the safety officer. The firefighter’s name is broadcast to all sector/group/ division supervisors so that the probable location of the missing person can be determined as quickly as possible. The IC formulates a rescue/search plan. Radio traffic is minimized during the rescue/search. The IC notifies all sector/group/division supervisors when the missing person is located. Radio restrictions are then terminated. This is an excellent system for accounting for firefighters. Strict unity of command and a manageable span of control are maintained. This is an intelligent and systematic approach to accountability. Although firefighting is a dangerous occupation, it doesn’t have to be done dangerously. This system safeguards firefighters as they engage in the rewarding and demanding tasks of protecting life and property.
Steve Howard, chief,
Basalt (CO) Fire Rescue
Response: We have been struggling with ways to adequately handle accountability for a number of years. We have tried “cow tags,” ID tags, passports, and many other systems, but none seem to adequately handle the problem. As volunteers, our firefighters can enter a fire scene by responding on an apparatus or in their personal vehicles. We spent all our efforts trying to intercept people at these two points of access and then track them from one point. It was too much for one person to try to track all these people. The system was harder to deal with than the emergency.
The accountability forum at Fire Engineering’s Fire Department Instructors Conference two years ago finally broke me out of the slump. During the discussion, I made the point that the fire service was buying accountability systems without analyzing the problem. We were trying to make our problem fit the system’s solution. As one prominent chief on the panel said, “Accountability is not trinkets. The trinkets should only remind us to account for our people.” The ID tags only help with doing a head count (or body count) after the fact. We went back to how we were teaching the incident command system and focused on the activities and reporting relationships at the bottom of the chain of command instead of focusing on the overhead structure most firefighters could care less about. We focused on rebuilding the officers’ roles and the people assigned to them. We began to make officers accountable for knowing who was working for them, what they were doing, and where they were. The firefighters were responsible for always knowing for whom they worked, what they were supposed to be doing, and where they were supposed to be. For 95 percent of our emergencies, we required only two levels of this reporting relationship.
We still have the ID tags, and people try to use them. Our measure of success is as follows: (1) Ask any officer on the fireground “Who is working for you, where are they, and what are they doing?” and get the right answer and (2) then ask any firefighter “For whom are you working, what are you supposed to be doing, and where are you supposed to be?” and get the answer that matches the officer’s. That is successful accountability!
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