One of the most important tasks that you as a command officer can do on a fire scene is to ensure that all of the personnel that arrived on scene make it back to the fire station in a safe manner. One way to do that is by utilizing the Incident Command System and having an accountability system in place on every run. The key to an effective accountability system is the fact that it is being utilized and in a correct manner. The purpose of accountability is to track personnel on the scene of an emergency or routine incident at all times. If properly utilized, it will allow you to know the location of personnel on every incident. What is the easiest way to do this? Well, there are many different resources available to the fire departments as to their choice of accountability system. I find that smaller departments across America have a harder time trying to utilize these systems to the meaning of true accountability. On of the main reasons is a limitation of available personnel on scene. If there is limited resources in your jurisdiction and you don’t have the manpower to put someone in this position, it is recommend that assistance be called for from a mutual aid department. This will allow for someone to be designated and responsible for the crucial fire ground task of accountability.
The accountability officer will have the hardest task on the fire scene because he/she has to constantly track individuals throughout the call. Accountability officers should position themselves in a manner where they can see two sides to every incident if possible. As everyone arrives on the fire scene, they should check within Incident Command or staging. The accountability officer will then be able to control and track personnel movements. This should be no different than going to work and punching a time clock. That way someone knows that you came to work to do a job. The operations officer will direct the assigning of personnel. A good accountability officer will listen to the operations of the fire scene and place the personnel on their tracking system to that assigned task. As companies are engaged into operations they would pass their accountability tags to the accountability officer. It is very important that the accountability officer stay focused on every company/crew that moves from any side, division or sector on every incident.
What if the incident gets to a scale where the accountability sector can’t keep up with multiple personnel? My answer to that is...Who’s to say that you can’t have more than one accountability officer functioning under the sector! As this is a function under the incident command system it can be expanded to accommodate the needs of the incident. When the incident calls for more personnel and you are the accountability officer, if your hands are full you need help! Don’t hesitate to request for assistance if things get crowded on the fire scene.
Another important factor for every firefighter to realize is that the accountability officer can’t do it by him or herself. If the officer in charge of the crew doesn’t let operations know their locations when they move from task to task, the accountability officer can’t use telepathy to guess where they are. Some important notes to remember when you are the accountability officer:
· Communication – Make sure you monitor all radio traffic.
· Tag In Tag Out – Make sure every firefighter checks in and when everyone leave make sure they check out.
· Make yourself visible – Wear a reflective accountability vest to identify yourself in that position.
· Don’t leave your accountability post – As accountability officer you should not leave your accountability board for other tasks. If for any reason you should need to leave your post, transfer your position to someone that isn’t assigned to another task and brief him or her on what you have set-up.
· Don’t get distracted – If you are the accountability officer at a large scale incident don’t critique the firefighters and don’t allow yourself to be amazed by the incident at hand.
Remember, you cannot guarantee that all of your firefighters are going to return to the firehouse if you do not use a system that accounts for all of your personnel. The key factor to accountability systems in today’s fire department is the use of it. Practice makes perfect, so if you have accountability in your fire department make sure that it is used on every run from small scale to large-scale incidents. This could be the difference in life or death!