Firefighter Accountability: Critical in Reducing America's LODDs

It has been amazing to watch the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) grow and change into perhaps the best agency preventing firefighter line-of-duty death and injury.


It has been amazing to watch the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) grow and change into perhaps the best agency preventing firefighter line-of-duty death and injury. When Executive Director Chief Ronald Siarnicki and Chairman Hal Bruno announced that the NFFF would begin to take on...


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It has been amazing to watch the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) grow and change into perhaps the best agency preventing firefighter line-of-duty death and injury.

When Executive Director Chief Ronald Siarnicki and Chairman Hal Bruno announced that the NFFF would begin to take on the responsibility of being a national voice regarding firefighter health and safety issues, my first thought was, "Just what we need, another group to claim that they were the answer to our problems and have no real impact." Boy, do I have to eat those words! In just a few short years, Chief Siarnicki and the NFFF have made tremendous progress in showing the fire-rescue service in this nation how to change to a safety-focused culture, making sure that "Everyone Goes Home."

This journey began in Tampa, FL, at the first National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Firefighter Life Safety Summit in March 2004. This would be like no other program that I have attended before or since. The energy in the room, coupled with the talent, was a tremendous setting to get started on a journey to curb firefighter line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) by 25% in the first few years, followed by sharper declines in years to follow. Although the goal of fewer LODDs has not materialized as of yet, it is my strong belief that the numbers are bound to get lower based on the work of this great foundation. As the Tampa summit ended, J. Gordon Routley, Adam Thiel and Kevin Roche had the responsibility of putting this tremendous amount of information (prepared by over 200 attendees) to paper in a usable and understandable format. The notion of the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives was instituted. This article will explore Initiative 2: Enhance the personal accountability for health and safety throughout the fire service.

IDLH Zones

When you consider that firefighters are required to work in immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) hazard zones every day, the need for a high level of personal accountability and crew integrity is obvious. There are four questions that must be asked and answered at every response event that involves placing our folks into IDLH environments. The questions are simple, straightforward and easy to understand. However, by the very nature of what we do and how we do it, effective accountability is difficult to achieve and maintain. Companies are engaging at various tactical positions — hopefully as part of the operational standard operating procedure (SOP) — and the incident scene being so fluid (ever changing) it makes keeping track of everyone a real chore.

Mandatory Questions

The first element of firefighter accountability is to know who the members operating in IDLH environments are by name and if possible by image (picture) as well. There are several great accountability systems on the market and other "local variations," but all systems must incorporate the name (identity) of the members being tracked. Some systems incorporate basic personal information with the personal identifiers such as blood type, religion and relative contact information. Regardless of whether the system you use is a passport, picture or tag, the accurate identity of the members being tracked is a critical component of the process.

The next question is, "Where are the members located in the building or at the IDLH risk hazards area?" In many cases, the incident command team (incident commander, deputy incident commander, safety officer and accountability officer) may need to narrow down the location where the member is located. For instance, if your members are located on the fifth floor of a sprawling high-rise, the need quickly arises to identify which section, quadrant or area they are working in. The concept of knowing where your members are operating becomes critical if the need arises to provide them assistance or support to effect their safe removal. If a Mayday is transmitted, the command team has an accurate anchor point to start the firefighter search and removal process.

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