4 tools for firefighter accountability

Once you've selected the right system, use this method to buy and implement it


One of the cornerstones for improving the safety of personnel on the emergency scene is having a personnel accountability system in place that everyone uses.

There are many PAS options available to fire departments. There are four basic systems to pick from: name tag, passport, bar code and unit identifier; here's a look at what you need to know to find the right one for your department.

Name-tag system

There are several considerations when choosing a firefighter accountability system. (Image Pixabay
There are several considerations when choosing a firefighter accountability system. (Image Pixabay

A name-tag system is a relatively inexpensive and easy to implement system for tracking a members' movements at an emergency scene. These systems come in many configurations, such as single-, double- or even triple-tag setups.

In a single-tag system, members keeps their assigned name tags affixed to their helmets until they are assigned an operational function at which time they give their tags to the incident commander. The commander keeps the tags organized by the functional positions established under the ICS structure, for example all name tags for personnel assigned to the vent group would be clipped together on a command board.

Passport system

A passport system uses small Velcro-backed name tags and a plastic unit identifier passport, such as Engine 17's passport. This system works for both on-duty, station-based resources as well as responding-from-home volunteers/paid on-call agencies.

All members tag on to the passport for the apparatus they arrive on; personnel who arrive at the scene without an assigned crew bring their tag to the command post for assignment.

Multiple passports can be issued to a company so that one could stay with the apparatus and then be collected and moved to the command post for posting on a command board. The second passport would stay with the officer enabling them to tag in with a division/group supervisor.

Barcode system

In barcode system, each member has an individual identification card with a scanable barcode. Upon arrival at the emergency scene, the incident commander scans the barcodes into proprietary software on a PC, tablet or smartphone.

The commander can then move personnel to their designated position within the ICS structure for the incident, for example she can move all of E-17's personnel to Division 1 to replace E-6's crew.

Unit identifier system

Another genre in the personnel-accountability field, though not a PAS per se, is a Unit Identifier System (UIS). Individual firefighters and officers wear a UIS panel for the unit that they are assigned to for their tour of duty.

A UIS is especially useful because personnel in many departments are highly mobile — they may be working at a fire company other than that to which they are normally assigned. 

These systems can use panels that are affixed to the helmet using Velcro or to SCBA cylinders for the unit. A UIS enables anyone on the emergency scene to quickly identify what unit a firefighter or officer is assigned to.

Buying a system

Regardless of which PAS option your department ultimately chooses, there will be a cost for the materials and the necessary training. Make sure to know what PAS the department can afford and when the department can afford it?

You'll likely have to budget for this expense in some form and its best to have that part of the plan completed early in the process.

To maximize your department's opportunity to select the PAS option that's right for your needs, and that your personnel will accept and use, give those who will use the system a hand in selecting the PAS. One method for addressing this task is to use the PDSA cycle: plan, do, study, act.

Plan 

Determine your department's PAS requirements by answering these questions.

  • Is your department all-career, all-volunteer or a combination department?
  • Do your personnel typically arrive on scene as functional crews with a supervisor or do they arrive as individuals that the incident commander must then organize into functional crews?
  • What is the comfort level of your department's personnel with using electronic technology in an emergency response environment — an important consideration if you're thinking about an electronic PAS?

Once you have a better idea about your requirements, take a look at the PAS options that meet those requirements and select the one that fit your budget. This is an important step because you want to avoid the situation where your personnel want a PAS that your department cannot afford.

Next, develop a plan for a representative group of your department's operational personnel to implement the system in a simulated response scenario. This would include the personnel and apparatus that would respond to a structural fire, including command officers.

Design the scenario so that all the components of the PAS will get evaluated: the pre-response phase, arrival at the scene, activation of the PAS and its integration into the ICS, and using the PAS to identify an unaccounted for member on the emergency scene. Finally, develop a data collection tool, like a short survey, for the study participants to complete following the evaluation exercise.

Do, study, act

Following each scenario have the participants complete the data collection tool for each PAS option that they used. This real-time collection of their thoughts and opinions will prove more useful than having them complete the tool later back at their station.

After you've completed all of the evaluation scenarios for the selected PAS options, collect and analyze the collected data. Then publish the results of the PAS evaluation scenarios and share that information with the entire organization. 

This is a critical step in gaining the total buy-in from your department's personnel that will be crucial for ensuring that the PAS option selected will be accepted and used 100 percent of the time.

Use your collected data to make the decision on the PAS that will best meet your department's needs and your budget.

Once you know the PAS that you're going to purchase, use the PDSA cycle again to develop your implementation plan.

Implementation

Develop the standard operating guideline that will provide guidance and direction for the use of the PAS chosen. Develop the training program to train all personnel in the proper use of the PAS according to the SOG. Develop a timeline for the implementation, including the required training, for the chosen PAS solution. 

Once the training is completed for all personnel, make the SOG active and ensure that all personnel are using the PAS per the SOG's instructions. Direct all department officers to closely monitor the level of compliance with the SOG's requirements.

To aid them in this effort, develop a data-collection tool for them to complete following each emergency response covered by the SOG. Determine a set period of time for the evaluation to take place, say 60 days, depending upon the department's level of activity.

Assemble and analyze the data collected during the evaluation period to determine the effectiveness of the SOG, the level of compliance on the part of personnel, and the effectiveness of the PAS solution chosen. Determine what, if any, modifications are necessary to gain 100 percent compliance with the SOG by all personnel.

Celebrate the successes. If you've gained a high level of compliance with the SOG then all of hard work by members of your department should be recognized. If you're not satisfied with the level of compliance, then take what's been learned from the study phase and plow it back into the plan phase and develop a plan for continued improvement.

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