Integrated Tactical Accountability

  Part 1 – Introducing a Freelance-Prevention System That Works Let’s get right to the point: If your implementation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Incident Command System (ICS) does not help you achieve and maintain...

  Part 1 – Introducing a Freelance-Prevention System That Works Let’s get right to the point: If your implementation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Incident Command System (ICS) does not help you achieve and maintain tactical accountability , your...

To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.


Complete the registration form.


Note the conflict within these citations. For example, a span of control of three to seven is considered ideal, yet the incident commander is supposed to initiate – and maintain – an accountability and inventory worksheet throughout the incident. This is silly; imagine an incident commander fiddling with this worksheet throughout a multi-alarm incident. How can the incident commander maintain this inventory worksheet of all resources and maintain the ideal span of control at the command post? Not only does this violate fundamental ICS span of control, it doesn’t work. This is one reason why many fire departments choose to dump resource tracking responsibility on somebody else, this person is often called an “accountability officer.” Here’s a hint: The presence of an “accountability officer” is a reliable indicator that, first, the fire department has not integrated accountability into the Incident Command System, and, second, it does not know how to achieve and maintain tactical accountability (or, in many cases, is not aware that it should).

The good news is that there has always been an ICS position with unlimited span of control and whose responsibility it is to track resources: the staging area manager. It’s no surprise that NFPA 1561 advises that resources should check in with the staging area manager. Considering that advice, guess which ICS position fire departments should assign to assist the incident commander with resource tracking? The bad news is that resource tracking is not tactical accountability.

Staging provides non-hazard-area personnel accountability; the staging area manager can quickly tell you where Engine 54 was sent (not where it is) and what time it left staging. (“Engine 54 was sent to Division 6 at 1530 hours.”) Notice that staging does not know where Engine 54 is at any given moment; all staging knows is what time Engine 54 left the staging area and where it was going. Something important is missing that opens an accountability gap: Where is Engine 54 and what are those firefighters doing right now? Only two people know this: the Division 6 supervisor and Engine 54’s team leader (team leaders are usually company officers). This resource management gap is filled with tactical accountability.

Personnel Accountability

In and around the immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) area, team leaders are responsible for their team members and, as mentioned, that is the essence of personnel accountability. It is important that team leaders (usually company officers) know that they are responsible for doing personnel accountability. An important expectation of this responsibility is that team leaders “C.A.R.E.” for their team members. The acronym C.A.R.E. represents:





For example, since Engine 54’s assignment was to evacuate floor 7. The responsibility Engine 54’s team leader would be to monitor:

Conditions – In particular visibility, temperature, hidden fire (voids, behind doors, etc.) and structural eccentricity.

Air – Enough self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) air supply to ensure that the team can withdraw to a safe position before low-air alarms are sounding.

Radio – Monitor the radio for orders to withdraw or abandon, emergency traffic, requests for status reports, etc.

Egress – Identify alternate egress routes and, should no alternate egress route exist, pay close attention to conditions behind the team.

Because personnel accountability in and around the hazard area requires that team leaders C.A.R.E. for their assigned team members, a team leader should never be on the nozzle, on a chainsaw or on the business end of any other task-level tool. Operating nozzles and saws is the work of firefighters. A fire officer operating a nozzle has the narrow, task-level focus of a firefighter and cannot C.A.R.E. for the team. (Ever try to monitor a portable radio while operating a chain saw?) The responsibility of a company officer is not to seek opportunities for tactical entertainment. Make sure your fire officers know what they are responsible for and understand the expectations that accompany this responsibility.

In case you missed it, the real nugget here is that team leaders are responsible for doing personnel accountability, particularly in and around the hazard area. They are the only people that can do it. Think about it: How could an accountability officer, the incident commander or some gee-whiz gadget C.A.R.E. for team members operating in the hazard area?

Tactical Accountability

Tactical accountability has three basic elements: who, what and where. Returning to Engine 54: “Engine 54 left staging at 1530 hours, proceeded to floor 6 and reported to the Division 6 supervisor for assignment.” After conveying Engine 54’s objective and work location (face to face!), the Division 6 supervisor knows what Engine 54 is doing (function) and where the members are working (location):

Who Engine 54

What Primary search

Where Floor 7