Throughout the nation, training officers, committees of firefighters, and firefighter entrepreneurs are trying to develop better accountability systems. When current accountability systems fail, most firelighter administrators propose immediate improvements. In some situations, individuals or committees may make recommendations based on surveys of other accountability systems.

The Seattle City (WA) Fire Department (SCI D) used the latter approach following a firefighter fatality in July 1987. Fireground management and the accountability system were listed as contributing factors in the death at that incident. To improve accountability, the department changed to the National Fire Academy’s incident command system (ICS), adopted a helmet identification system, and stressed team continuity as policy and in training. The department felt that the new system was equal to or better than industry standards in accounting for teams and maintaining team continuity.

Vet in September 1989, accountability failure contributed to another Seattle firefighter’s death. The firefighter was part of a two-person team working in a burning building that took a turn for the worse. He and his partner were experiencing complications from heat and exposure and he asked his partner to get help. Unfortunately, while exiting the building, the partner experienced extreme heat exposure, became distressed, partially lost consciousness, and was recovered by a third firefighter from another team. As the two exited the building, the chief officer recognized the distress, directed them to a paramedic team for treatment, and listed the “company” as being accounted for. At that point there was no record of the first firefighter, who was still in the building. An hour later, the injured partner regained consciousness and inquired about the safety of his original partner. The first firefighter was later found in the collapsed, smoldering structure.

Seattle Fire Chief Claude Harris requested the assistance of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to investigate what appeared to be a second accountability-related death. He also directed the training division to find or develop an accountability system that would substantially reduce fireground accountability problems.

The training division management mapped out the following goals for the accountability project:

  • Reduce the risk of firefighter death.
  • Reduce the probability of litigation.
  • Conform to regulatory law and NFPA good practice.
  • Improve fireground command and control.
  • The strategy was to research and study existing practices and other accountability systems, including
  • firefighters’ attitudes regarding accountability:
  • existing practices throughout the fire service;
  • national and local death and injury statistics:
  • federal and state firefighter safety laws; and
  • NFPA standards for firefighter accountability.
  • The SCFD studies, conducted locally and nationally, led to the following general conclusions:
  • Firefighters want improved accountability but resist any accountability system that slows down fire attacks.
  • Extensive individual and company freelancing operations occur in most departments.
  • Firefighters underestimate the risks to themselves and their associates.
  • Firefighters violate safety factors in perceived low-risk situations.
  • Firefighters and many officers have little awareness of laws and standards that regulate work methods.
  • Large numbers of firefighters forget to turn on their PASS devices or fail to use them at all.
  • There is no clear understanding of when, where, or how the buddy system is supposed to operate.

Death and injury statistics clearly reveal that most fireground deaths are the result of heart attacks or stress. In addition, many burnand smoke-related deaths result when firefighters arclost or unaccounted for prior to the trauma. In any situation, rescue efforts must be immediate if distressed firefighters are to survive.

Although state and federal laws and NFPA standards clearly convey supervisory requirements for personnel using self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) in hazardous atmospheres, problems persist. These standards hold supervisors responsible for the constant aw areness of the number, identity, location, and function of personnel, as well as the time they enter a hazardous area. They also assume personnel with SCBA will be available to assist in an immediate rescue and require twoperson teams, at a minimum, with a routine method of accountability that expands with an incident.

The studies resulted in developing the following objectives for a new accountability system:

  • Have protocols for the buddy system that answer when, where, how, and why such a system is to be used.
  • Reduce opportunities for individual and company freelancing.
  • Work as a tool that encourages and enforces fireground organizatio through the ICS without slowing down the fire attack.
  • Meet the objectives of federal and state laws as well as the recognized good practice standards of the NFPA.
  • Hardware must be hands-free, portable, and all-weather; require minimum writing; and involve emergency incident commanders.
  • Account for all personnel at any incident in less than three minutes.

The SCFD looked at many existing systems but could not find one that met its goals and objectives. It concurred that for an accountability system to work, basic expectations for the firefighters had to be clearly understood and easily applied. The accountability system had to enforce the buddy system and require that firefighters be in contact with their partners in an area where protective clothing was required. Such contact would permit firefighters to provide, call for, and retrieve help for others. In short, the accountability system had to detail how, when, and where firefighters are to work together and track them as they work in changing fireground conditions.

To meet these requirements and goals, the SCFD developed the concept of the PASSPORT™ Accountability System. PASSPORT™ is a point-of-entry method of accountability developed with the input of several hundred fire Chiefs and firefighters from rural and metropolitan departments in the Seattle/King County area, including volunteer departments.

Today, PASSPORT™ has been implemented by departments nationwide that customize the system to meet their own standards and requirements. By design, it has its own backup and defaults to safety.

For more information or to order the PASSPORT™ training and student manuals and accompanying video, contact: the Washington Research Foundation; 4225 Roosevelt Way N.E., Suite 303; Seattle. WA 98105; (206) 633-3569 or Fax (206) 633-2981.

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