Integrated Tactical Accountability

  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...


  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...


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From this operational congruity emerges what I call “incident equilibrium,” which simply means that you (the incident commander) use the ICS to establish and maintain an appropriate balance of strategic stuff with tactical stuff. This is done by aggressively managing strategy, resources and risk from a command post. A major benefit of operational congruity is that tactical accountability is enabled. The strategic thread emerges from this operational congruity. The thread begins at the command post, connects to division and group supervisors, extends from each supervisor to company officers/team leaders, and finally extends from each team leader to firefighters operating at the business end of tactical tools such as nozzles, saws, poles and axes.

Each connection has responsibility-based focus. The command post has command-level focus; command-level focus means that there is an incident commander at the command post focused on managing three things: strategy, resources and risk. Division and group supervisors have strategic-level focus. This means that they focus on supervising their piece of the overall IAP. Supervisors should not be positioned within the hazard area. If division and group supervisors are within the hazard area (where teams operate), their strategic focus changes from strategic to the tactical focus of a team and the thread is severed. Team leaders (usually company officers) have tactical-level focus. This means that in and around the hazard area team leaders function as the strategic resource for the team, but can assist at task level if necessary (helping advance a hoseline, but not on the nozzle). In other words, team leaders have one foot in strategy – C.A.R.E. – and the other foot in task. Division and group supervisors must have both feet in strategy, outside of, but proximal to the hazard area.

Team members (firefighters) have a task-level focus that is very narrow. They are concentrating on a task-level activity such as aiming a hose stream or guiding the blade of a rotary saw. If the incident commander is wandering around the fireground, the strategic thread is severed. If the team leader lets the team separate, the strategic thread is severed. Here’s a synopsis of how it works – recall that the house fire operational mode had been declared “offensive from side A on floor 2.” These words convey the following information:

1. The main hazard area is on floor 2.

2. Teams will enter from side A.

3. Floor 1 has the most value.

4. The status of life safety is “unknown if occupied.”

5. “Unknown if occupied” means that compliance with the “two-in/two-out” rule is required and that life safety will be addressed with the tactical objective primary search (not search and rescue).

The Division A supervisor assigned Engine 54 “primary search from side A on floor 2.” The Division A supervisor (supervising no more than six teams) knows where each team is working and what each team is doing.

How To Maintain Tactical Accountability

Once achieved, maintaining tactical accountability is easy. Let’s say that Engine 54 is low on air and must withdraw before completing primary search. If the Division A supervisor is sharp, a couple of “exchange teams” will be hovering nearby, ready for assignment. Because the exchange teams are nearby, ready for assignment, the Division A supervisor won’t need to wait for a team to arrive from staging. (There’s no pause button on the fireground.) The supervisor removes Engine 54’s passport and plugs the passport of an exchange team onto the board. Let’s say Engine 33 is the exchange team. Engine 33 does a quick face-to-face with Engine 54 before proceeding to floor 2 and finishing the search. Engine 54 retrieves their passport and reports to staging for fresh air cylinders and rehab.

Engine 33 is tactically accounted for and Engine 54 is accounted for at staging. The staging area manager (or the incident commander if staging is still at the command post) records what time Engine 54 arrived at staging and obtains their passport. Engine 54’s passport is attached upside-down on the staging area status board. The upside-down passport indicates they are at staging, but not available for assignment. After hydrating and acquiring fresh air cylinders, the passport is turned right-side-up, which indicates the team is ready for assignment. Although simple and easy to maintain, this level of accountability is powerful and tight. Nobody falls through the cracks.