Accountability? It’s Not Just a “Sector” Anymore

This account is provided by a reader. Chief Goldfeder’s comments follow. We received a 911 call for a building fire at a local inn. It is a 21¼2-story bar with apartments above. The caller, who was the building’s owner, advised that a wall...

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If, however, one of us fails to be accountable in getting our “portion” done, the organization faces delays or problems. Sometimes, it’s no big deal, such as forgetting to clean a station bay window, but sometimes it is a real big deal, such as the driver forgetting to make sure there is water in the booster tank. The impact of us not being accountable is at the root of many of the problems we have at any of our fire departments – on a run or before the run.

Accountability and tracking are two terms that seem to get us a little confused. Sure, the sector known as accountability is responsible to track the troops on an emergency scene:

  • Who are they?
  • Where are they?
  • What are they doing?
  • What’s their progress?

Generally, we want to make sure they are doing their “portion” of what is needed on the emergency scene, and doing it safely – and when they are done, to determine what they do next. In some “schools of thought,” we are really establishing a tracking sector. Does it matter what we call it? I don’t think it does, except for the fact that whatever it is called, it simply must be known and understood by all operating, and be called the same thing all the time. In other words, “standardization” of terms so, for example, we know that side A is always side A, no matter what. Side A is generally the addressed side or the main street side of the building. Simple, easy and determined by the first unit. The first-arriving officer is to be held accountable (or responsible) to establish command and determine what the tactics are going to be Better yet, the tactics have been pre-planned and everyone understands how the situation is going to be handled.

Pre-planning accountability? Absolutely. Let’s forget about “drawn” or “computer-generated” pre-plans for a minute and look at “organizational pre-planning.”

Simply put, organizational pre-planning is taking a look at what could or might happen before a run, during a run and after a run to insure that the run is handled properly and everyone goes home safely. Organizational pre-planning allows the fire department to pre-determine what can be encountered enroute, when arriving, while operating, while taking up and while going home. It is much broader than a “traditional” pre-plan that looks at a building, as it helps us “predict” what may go wrong or right. Organizational pre-planning helps us look at “the big picture.”

Have you ever been at the firehouse and heard someone say:

  • “One of these days, someone is going to get hurt because of the way he drives” or...
  • “That fire company can never get their apparatus on the road quickly” or...
  • “Why don’t we ever do any training here?” or...
  • “She is acting really weird. Did you smell her breath?” or...
  • “I get nervous working with that crew...they just seem to do whatever they want to do on the fireground.”

We have all heard or said similar comments at one time or another. As much as any of those issues have to be dealt with, they are also the start of an opportunity to use organizational pre-planning (OP) to predict a problem and then address it.

“One of these days someone is going to get hurt because of the way he drives” is a clear predictor that someone is going to get hurt. OP can address it by looking at the adequacy of the driver training program, checking to make sure it is being delivered and that the officers are enforcing the safety related policies.

“That fire company can never get their apparatus on the road quickly” is generally related to a volunteer fire department’s turnout time. OP can address that issue “before the run” by looking at the statistics to determine whether turnout time is a problem. If it is taking a fire department too long to get on the road, solutions need to be laid out and selected – and “how long is too long?” also can be dealt with as a part of OP. National standards such as EMS-related patient care/survivability standards (for example, how long does it take someone who is bleeding or not breathing to die) make it clear how long we have to arrive on a scene in order to make a positive difference. The “ISO Guide to Fireflow,” available free at, can be used similarly in determining how much water may be needed to handle a structure of any construction or size. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards can help determine how many people we need to arrive in order to accomplish the firefighting tasks safely. (See, this stuff can be figured out!)