An important responsibility that goes along with the accountability officer position is to properly document your work at any scene. For this, I use an accountability sheet.
On my sheet I keep track of the date and time accountability was started, also the times that I do PAR checks. I document location and assignment of each team as well as types of air packs used by the members of each team. When the assignment or the location of each team changes, by hearing it from the IC or from the team leader himself, it is my job as the AO to record it.
It is imperative that the AO keeps his information current. For example, if I am watching the scene and I notice a team walking past a window on the second floor, I then look at my sheet and have no record of anybody being on that floor, it is now time to find out what team it is.
The accountability officer can never be ashamed to say that he doesn't know where everyone is. He must immediately rectify that problem. One thing that I like to do to help assure that my information is correct is to ask for the teams' location after a PAR check. This doesn't mean that a team is lost. I am just double checking my information. The team leaders and IC have become aware that I do this periodically.
There will be times when you first start using this system that this will happen. Through training and constantly using this system, the accountability officer and team leaders will become more in sync. It will become second nature for team leaders to report their locations, and after a while they will do it without thinking about it.
Getting back to the sheet, when a location of a team changes, I put a line through the old location then I write the new information directly underneath it. It is important to still be able to read the old information. This is to be used later for an after scene critique.
In the ABBET-RIT organization, we have developed a standardized accountability report sheet. We attach this sheet to every fire report to prove through documentation that we use accountability on every call per NFPA 1561.
There are those of you out there that will argue that we don't have to follow OSHA or NFPA standards. But if you have a line of duty injury or death and you have failed to follow the nationally recognized standards that are available to each and every department, paid and volunteer, operating in the United States. You are setting yourself up for liability.
When I call PAR, if I do not get an answer immediately from a team leader, I wait for 10 to 15 seconds, and then I call that team again. There may be many reasons that they did not hear me, for example, the radio that they have might not be working properly, or have a dead battery. Also, the environment that they are operating in may be very loud.
If I do not get a response a second time, I need to look at my accountability sheet to see their most recent location. If they are in rehab or at the air station, I would not make a recommendation for command to activate the RIT team. I simply call rehab and ask if that team is there and if they have PAR. We all know in rehab that the first thing you do is take your coat off. A person's radio is usually left in their coat.
If the team is inside the burning structure, I first by using my sheet, determine if another team is working in the same area. If so, I will check the status of the first team with them. If there is no one in their area, I will then report the available information to command who will then determine whether or not to activate the RIT team to initiate a rescue. The AO will then continue to do PAR checks on the remaining teams to insure that everyone else is OK. All of the information available will then be transferred to the command to use.
For example, if the second floor of the structure were to collapse, I can now tell command what team was there, who is on the team, what type of packs they are wearing, approximately how much air they have left, as well as basic medical information for all team members. This is a wealth of information for the team providing the rescue.
There are times that you will not use accountability with tags. For incidents such as some motor vehicle accidents, dumpster fires, car fires, or anywhere all personnel are in plain view of the AO, visual accountability is acceptable, but must be properly documented. Any time personnel operate out of your line of sight, the tag system must be used.
In my experience with setting up accountability systems, it seems to me that proper documentation of accountability has gotten overlooked, until it is needed. Hopefully we can take a more pro-active approach to accountability as a whole, and have it when we need it, as opposed to wishing we had it when we needed it.