Do You Have PAR?

By Tino A. Yaccich

Do you have PAR? How many times do emergency service workers hear this question asked? Not as many times as they should when they are on scene of any type of incident. For those of you who don’t know what PAR is, it is a term that is commonly used in a properly implemented accountability system. PAR stands for Personnel Accountability Report. It is basically saying, “Is everyone OK?” Accountability is rapidly becoming part of the incident command system in the fire service for good reason. It must be part of every command system for every incident, not just fire. If you were to read the line-of-duty-death reports for emergency services workers, I am sure you would be surprised to find how often accountability could possibly have made a difference.

A properly implemented accountability system should be efficient, inexpensive, and easy to implement in any situation. It should be used during any type of incident, training, or company activity. Simply put, you play how you practice. It is something that should be performed without having to think about it. It should be a priority to everyone in a leadership position that all their personnel be accounted for. Accountability is not a new concept; doing it properly and doing it often are new concepts.

Accountability promotes the concept of teamwork. For everyone to be properly accounted for, they must stay in teams. It is a proven fact that freelancing is a very unsafe practice. If you can eliminate freelancing, you have taken a major step toward improving the overall safety of your personnel. Team sizes can vary with every situation. Every team must have a team leader who is responsible for keeping the team together, carrying out the team’s assignment, and communicating with the accountability officer as well as with Command.

The accountability officer has a great deal of responsibility. A properly trained accountability officer tracks all on-scene personnel, their location, their duties, their time in/out, and more. If you are commanding an incident, this can take a lot of weight off your shoulders. The accountability officer should be in direct communication with all team leaders as well as with Command.

As emergency services workers, we should be looking to incorporate a standard accountability system. Systems may vary according to situations, but there should be some basic guidelines to follow to ensure compatibility between systems. There are many different accountability systems, and they vary in price. Each claims to be the best. When looking for an accountability system, first evaluate your department’s needs. What type of incidents do you respond to? How many personnel do you have to account for? What is your financial situation? Do you want an electronic or a manual system?

An important aspect of accountability is proper documentation. Our fire department fills out an accountability report and attaches it to every fire report. This is proof that accountability is being done at every scene. An accountability report should list the names of the command team, including the accountability officer, as well as the number of teams and their duties, the times and frequency of PAR surveys, and any other relevant information. At smaller incidents where everyone is in plain view of the accountability officer, visual accountability is acceptable. If everyone is not within the line of sight of the accountability officer, fill out a PAR.

A good accountability system should never tie up communications with unneeded radio traffic. Perform status checks at timed intervals determined prior to the incident and approved by Command. Communications should be quick and inclusive of everyone. For example, my department performs PAR surveys on all teams, pump operators, as well as fire police. Our thought is that a fire police officer may be operating a mile or so away. There are too many possibilities that he could be injured or in trouble. When do you find out that he has had an accident? Possibly hours after the incident has ended. Therefore, everyone is part of our PAR surveys.

Everyone needs to recognize the importance of having a properly implemented accountability system. I heard a fire chief who had a fatality in his department say the following two statements, which I will always remember: “I thought it could not happen here” and “If we would have had an accountability system, I might have had an injured firefighter but not a dead firefighter.” No wait until a firefighter fatality to open your eyes to the need for an accountability system. The next time you are asked, “Do you have PAR?” your answer should be, “Yes.”

Tino A. Yaccich, a 10-year veteran of the fire service, is the accountability officer for the Rochester Township (PA) Volunteer Fire Department and the Beaver County Haz-Mat Team. He is co-author of the ABBET RIT accountability system, which is currently being taught through the Community College of Beaver County, Butler County Community College, Community College of Allegheny County, North Park Fire Academy, and Butler County Fire Academy and has recently been accepted into curriculum at the PA State Fire Academy.

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