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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“She is acting really weird. Did you smell her breath?” When a statement like that is made but then ignored, it is an indicator that either no officer wants to deal with the issue or that no policies or procedures are in place to properly and fairly manage that kind of not-so-rare issue. OP can allow the fire department to plan now for when it does happen.

In short, OP can help manage predictable risks to a point where if a problem occurs, “systems” and “leaders” are in place to reverse it or at least stop in from getting worse in many, many cases.

In this month’s specific “close call,” we see numerous examples of the failure of this fire department to do some organizational pre-planning. A visiting firefighter who had been drinking at a bar walks into the firehouse and asks an officer whose gear he can wear? “The new officer, not sure what to do” is an example of a fire department missing some clear policies, procedures and leadership addressing, as a start, who can respond on apparatus. Without it, the results are predictable. Questions of “Who trained that officer?” or “Did that officer even get any training?” are paramount. No officer training? Common, very common. In many areas, you could be riding the jumpseat today and be a chief officer tomorrow – and that’s not just at volunteer fire departments. Readers may think this is simple – how can any fire department allow these things to happen without a policy addressing it? Well, it happened and keeps happening.

“The visiting firefighter then got on the first engine out with the officer. Another firefighter and two assistant chiefs were riding the engine and no one ever questioned who this person was, his training or anything.” This is where “personal” accountability clearly comes in. With a lieutenant and two chief officers on the apparatus, someone should have been concerned about “whoever that guy is” getting on the apparatus – a clear example of no one being accountable. Why would any apparatus leave the station without the officer in charge knowing exactly who is on board (of his or her own crew, not to mention the “hitchhiker”), who is in what position, and that all are seated and belted?

The senior assistant chief who was in charge didn’t handle critical initial tasks such as establishing command and establishing accountability (tracking), but instead went inside (no tools, no pack, no water) with the engine crew to investigate. We could spend all day discussing the incident command system and how the various sectors can and do make a difference in firefighters being able to survive. Instead of me doing that, just read this magazine cover to cover. The use of an incident command or incident management system may be a pain for some, but it is proven and it works. Success simply requires fire officers to be open minded, to understand incident command, to apply it during training and to use it on every run with a desire to protect their firefighters.

What was the potential of this incident? “Personal accountability tags were never given to the officer riding the front seat. An untrained person under the influence of alcohol was allowed to ride on the call and then go inside, all geared and packed up. Even though smoke was visible from the firehouse, they never laid in from a hydrant and never pulled handlines or tools off the apparatus…”

Does anyone see the red error flags? In this case, you can’t even see the ground because there are so many red flags! This fire department was given a “free-pass” card. What’s a “free-pass” card? Simply put, we ignore all the rules, don’t do our jobs, take major risks and get away with it, surviving in spite of our failure to be accountable. We get away with it in spite of our failure to do organizational pre-planning and in spite of our failure, as fire officers to strictly and dictatorially enforce the rules on the fireground, specifically when it comes to our ability to survive. We just get lucky.