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

Part one of this series (February 2011) referenced the 1960s sitcom “Car 54, Where Are You?” to establish that freelancing and lack of accountability may be funny on TV, but are not funny on the fireground. The concept of tactical accountability was...

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Ultimately, all levels of freelancing are enabled by a fourth level: Command freelancing. Command freelancing is easy to identify: visualize a chief officer wandering the fireground with a portable radio. No strategic tools, not managing from a command post. This migrating “incident commander” often serves as the gatekeeper of tactical- and task-level freelancing: “Hey Chief, can we (fill in the blank with a favorite task using a favorite tool)?” The chief replies, “Yeah, that’s a great idea. Be safe!” Such antics are evidence that the so-called incident commander:

1. Has not done size-up.

2. Does not have an action plan.

3. Has not declared the operational mode.

4. Is not managing span of control.

5. Is not coordinating objectives.

6. Has not achieved and is not maintaining tactical accountability.

Command-level freelancing begets strategic-level freelancing; strategic-level freelancing begets tactical-level freelancing; and tactical-level freelancing begets task-level freelancing.


How to Eliminate

Geographic Freelancing

The “Command Caveat” for eliminating geographic freelancing is: Never assign something to do without someplace to do it. An assignment that enables geographic freelancing sounds something like this: “Truck 31 primary search.” This assignment is a green light for Truck 31 to freelance geographically; if Truck 31 is going to decide where to enter and where to search, the company is freelancing geographically. Geographic freelancing can be strategic, tactical or task level; geographic freelancing means tactical accountability is not being maintained and likely has not been achieved.

By assigning a company or team an objective, an access location and a work location, tactical accountability will be achieved by the who-what-where nature of the assignment. This can be done by incorporating the words “from” and “on” into all tactical assignments (Figure 3). Returning to the Truck 31 example, it would sound like this: “Truck 31, primary search from side A on floor 2.” (Who is Truck 31? What is primary search? Where is "from side A on floor 2"?)


How to Eliminate

Functional Freelancing

The “Command Caveat” for eliminating functional freelancing is: Never send somebody someplace without something to do when they get there. A strategic-level example is the previously mentioned Battalion 2 that was directed to “on your arrival establish Division C.” A tactical example would be to convey an assignment without a work location: “Engine 35, on your arrival you’ll be interior.” Interior what? Interior division? Confine and extinguish? Primary search? Make coffee? The likely scenario is that Engine 35 will park, grab favorite tools, enter the building, scan the interior, see something shiny through the smoke haze and off they go. If a resource will decide what to do, they will be freelancing functionally; functional freelancing can be strategic, tactical or task level.

Another example of functional freelancing is an “assignment” I heard on the fireground a few years ago (apparatus designators have been changed to protect the guilty): “Truck XX, go up to floor 2 and see if there’s something you can do to help Engine XX.” That “assignment” was a free pass for Truck XX to freelance functionally.

When Truck XX does find something to do, you will have no idea where they are or what they are doing. If Engine XX didn’t need assistance, did Truck XX ascend to floor 3? Are they are at staging sipping Gatorade? Of course, Truck XX could call you on the radio and let you know where they are and what they are doing, but that generates a few problems: you don’t have their passport, it generates extra radio traffic and makes you a gatekeeper of freelancing. The bottom line is that Truck XX will likely be freelancing both geographically and functionally.

Divisions and Groups:

The ITAC Difference

For decades, the ICS distinction between a division and a group has been that “divisions are geographic” and “groups are functional.” Although nice and tidy, these definitions conjure two questions:

1. Should teams assigned to a division do something functional?

2. Should teams assigned to a group do their function someplace geographic?

If the answer to both is affirmative, then what is the true difference between a division and a group? Consider these ITAC definitions:

1. A division is assigned multiple objectives that will be performed within the supervisor’s geographic area of responsibility. Division supervisors are designated geographically and report to an individual who has branch responsibility.