Incident Command and Accountability have been buzz words for a long time. In some cases we've come a long way in improving the operations on the fireground - and in many cases we've only added to the chaos. Filling out the ICS organization chart and assigning everyone a name tag doesn't do much when a fireground emergency calls for an all-out search for missing firefighters. By incorporating a simple command (tactical) worksheet into everyday fireground operations, for the use of tracking fireground personnel and improving overall fireground communications, that all-out search just may have a positive result.
Textbook ICS usually results in an eloquent size-up of the non-fire building. When heavy fire is showing the size-up and company assignments are usually in some abbreviated code - or non-existent. From that point on everyone is working to bring the fire under control - that's their job! What happens next, when a ranking officer or chief officer takes over the command role, has a major impact on the success or failure of any firefighter emergency situations that may arise.
A command worksheet is simply a tool that can aid in tracking the information that's needed. A good trait of a well-trained department is that arriving companies go to work when they get there. Many times this initial deployment is based on department SOPs. If the initial unit establishing command is in attack or mobile mode then it becomes very difficult to keep track of all companies. As soon as a stationary command is established a priority is locating existing crews in the fire building.
Location is Critical
Accountability is going to make a difference when something goes wrong, not when everything goes smooth! When a firefighter is lost, trapped or injured we need to know, as close as possible, where he is or where he was when things went wrong.
Consider the operation of most accountability systems, individuals 'log' into the system by either giving their tag to the company officer, placing their tag somewhere on the apparatus, or simply leaving their tag somewhere on their gear. When a response occurs, in many cases, that's the end of basic accountability. Many departments have added the next phase which is that somebody will collect tags if things escalate. Isn't that like saying when we find out that we need more water we'll go and get it?
Tracking firefighters during an actual incident is a labor-intensive task. Somebody needs to know who's there, who they are with, and where they were sent. After that, both the company and individuals, have to communicate where they're going - if they leave the assignment area.
There are many commercial tactical worksheets available. Another source for examples is past magazine articles and/or textbooks. Sometimes the simplest means of putting a worksheet into operation in your department is by developing your own. Many things can be put on the worksheet such as safety considerations, water supply issues, wind, weather, utility control, major tactical objectives or benchmarks, etc., but two essential pieces of information are company assignments (attack, backup, search, ventilation...) and crew locations.
Tracking assignments should be relatively easy, when the assignment is made write the company name down on the worksheet next to the assignment. Easy, right? Too many departments have been lulled into believing that the incident is routine and that there's no need to get so detailed. The order of arrival, or assignment, is also an important piece of information. When multiple companies are assigned to perform certain tasks they should be relieved in an appropriate order - that is, first-in first-out. If there's no means of tracking who went in first then how is it possible to relieve the most needed companies.