Integrated Tactical Accountability “Engine 54, Where Are You?”

The absence of tactical accountability on the fireground is dangerous and has contributed to the death of many fine men and women. Part one introduced the concept of “tactical accountability” and described why it is important. Part two details...

Welcome back to Integrated Tactical Accountability, the freelance prevention and National Incident Management System (NIMS) implementation system that works. In part one (February 2011), we reminisced about the 1960s TV sitcom “Car 54, Where Are You?” The sitcom theme was the comical exploits of...

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Often, fire departments will attempt to “herd the cats” with pre-assignments. Pre-assignments eventually morph into institutionalized freelancing. The chief officer merely observes the freelancing and awaits news of conditions and progress. The chief may have a general idea of what’s happening, but has no idea where people are at any given moment. One could ask why the chief needs to be there. Other times, the chief officer will function as a gatekeeper of freelancing: “Hey Chief, we’re going to go (fill in the tactical blank).” To which the gatekeeping chief replies: “Yeah, that’s a great idea, be safe!” Neither is evidence that an incident-specific action plan has been developed that is based on an incident-specific size-up.


Aggressive Strategy

For generations, the North American fire service has established a proud history and tradition of aggressive tactics. Too often, though, aggressive tactics occur before any strategy takes place. If you’re skeptical, read the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) firefighter line-of-duty-death investigation reports. NIOSH has been identifying the same contributing factors for more than a decade:

Incompetent command

No size-up

No action plan

Lack of tight accountability


Lack of team integrity

Span of control out of control

The time has come to establish an equally proud tradition of aggressive strategy. I believe that achieving and maintaining tactical accountability qualifies as aggressive strategy. (This article has been describing aggressive strategy.) The problem is that aggressive strategy is far more challenging than aggressive tactics. That is why we have an operational “mode” called “fast attack,” which is another way of saying no size-up, no water supply, no coordinated ventilation, no “two-out” standby team and no command post. In other words, “fast attack” is the stampede to aggressive tactics and the glaring omission of strategy.

The execution of aggressive tactics requires that firefighters have access to appropriate tactical tools. Likewise, the execution of aggressive strategy requires that fire officers have access to appropriate strategic tools. Access to the appropriate tools is not enough; just as firefighters must know how to use their tactical tools, fire officers must know how to use their strategic tools.

I have introduced a few of the strategic tools that make tactical accountability possible. Using these strategic tools will help make sure your firefighters are not caught in the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reason. Tactical accountability will help make sure that NIOSH doesn’t visit your fire station. (NIOSH doesn’t visit fire stations to award certificates of achievement.)

If your current “system” implementation lets teams freelance, you will one day announce on the radio: “Engine 54, where are you?” By embracing a structured and systematic process for doing “strategy,” you will be making a strong commitment to the goal that “Everyone Goes Home.”


Next Time

Part three will:

1. Introduce the three levels of fireground freelancing.

2. Describe how to eliminate functional freelancing.

3. Describe how to eliminate geographic freelancing.

4. How to capture and account for volunteer firefighters.

5. Clarify the real difference between a division and a group.

• • •

IMS Alliance has produced a Passport Accountability System DVD featuring an introduction to Tactical Accountability and instructor-support documents, including cognitive and manipulative post-tests. See