Fireground tactics: Firefighter accountability

Despite the chaos of the fireground, there are ways to keep track of firefighters' whereabouts

The fireground is a fast-paced environment and can at times be confusing and chaotic. Keeping tabs of all responding personnel is a hard task to accomplish, but a necessary task.

Knowing who is on scene, where they are and what they are doing is the core of accountability. It is a two-way street requiring each person to communicate to command their status and location as well as command to communicate to firefighters. Every person is responsible for their own accountability as well as for that of each person around them.

There are many systems in place for accountability. The designs vary from the very complex involving computer tracking systems to the very simple such as a piece of paper and a pencil. Whichever system is chosen by the fire department will depend upon its unique needs and method of operation.

Make the system work

Regardless, a system needs to be implemented and used. All personnel need to be trained and familiar with how it works, not just in the host department but also for the mutual-aid departments.

The system also needs to be enforced; it is very easy for a system to take flight, then lose altitude over time. Freelancing occurs when there is either no system in place or the existing system is unenforced.

The end result is series of dominoes lining up to what can be a fatal outcome. There are plenty of real-world examples; here is one.

Case study

In March 2011, two firefighters died while conducting interior operations at a commercial store. The two firefighter LODDs were attributed to a roof collapsing on top of them.

Initially five firefighters entered into the store to ensure that all customers were out. Three of them exited the building with the other two remaining inside. Four separate stations responded to the call involving numerous personnel.

The accountability issue stems from the initial personnel responding on scene, some were from one station, others from another and one was from a mutual-aid station. The mutual-aid firefighter happened to be in town when the call came in and responded right away.

In the initial moments of the call, there was no accountability of who was on scene, where they were and what they were doing. The two firefighters that perished were from two stations.

When the roof collapsed and trapped them, their whereabouts were initially unknown. Their PASS alarms were going off and could be heard for the hours after until they were removed from the building.

Having an accountability system is an essential piece of equipment for the fire service. Using it is another essential piece of the puzzle.

Too many dominoes can be lined up when there is no accountability system in place — leading to a handicapped fire department. 

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