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How real-time accountability improves response, safety

Cloud-based, passive firefighter accountability systems help incident commanders track personnel movements throughout the incident response


Quickly capturing and sharing vital information is key to the safe, effective and efficient conduct of emergency operations.

Photo/City of San Jose

Fire departments have been using manual personnel accountability systems (PAS), such as cow tags, passports and the like for many years. However, we still see NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention reports that all too frequently list the lack of a firefighter accountability system as a contributing factor for the firefighter line-of-duty death (LODD).

While active, manual personnel accountability systems require the incident commander and individual firefighters and officers to act to make the system work, passive, cloud-based accountability systems bypass the first failure point of active systems by ensuring every firefighter is automatically entered in the system without disrupting the normal flow of activity on scene.

Cloud-based accountability systems also keep up with the changing locations of personnel operating on the scene; and helping the IC answer these important accountability questions:

  • Where are those individual firefighters and officers physically located on the emergency scene, in real time?
  • If an unexpected event happens – a flashover, backdraft or roof collapse – can the incident commander effectively and efficiently account for the location and safety status for everyone on the emergency scene?
  • If such an unexpected event happens, will the incident commander have all the personnel accountability information available for investigative or after-action reports?

A passive personnel accountability system scenario

Cloud computing and software that allows real-time updates from multiple sources can help incident commanders on the ground plot fire activity, the location of hand lines and where unit assets are located. Quickly capturing and sharing vital information is key to the safe, effective and efficient conduct of emergency operations, and paramount for providing a safer work environment for firefighters.

The key word in passive personnel accountability system is personnel. A passive accountability system starts the moment the firefighter or officer logs in for their tour-of-duty on the time and attendance software program. So, at the beginning of the tour of duty, the system knows that Engine 9 is staffed with four personnel.

When Engine 9 is dispatched with Engines 2, 7 and 18; and Trucks 3 and 8; along with Battalion Chief 6 to a reported structure fire at 1234 Sesame Street, the computer-aided dispatch system (CADS) software retrieves the pertinent personnel information (e.g., name, professional qualifications and photograph) for all the personnel on the responding units.

CADS then sends that data package to the department’s incident command and control software, where that software creates electronic personnel accountability system profiles for each responding unit, like Engine 9’s below:

  • Captain Sherron Tate (HazMat)
  • Engineer Valarie Guffy
  • Firefighter/Paramedic Fernando Martinez
  • Firefighter Patrick Parziale (HazMat and Tech Rescue)

When the first unit arrives at 1234 Sesame Street, and the officer pushes a button on their MDT or tablet computer to initiate an incident record, the incident command and control software populates a resource list for the incident commander’s use. The incident commander now has a complete list of what fire apparatus is on scene and the identity of every individual on each of those units.

As the incident unfolds and the incident commander assigns engines and trucks to tactical assignments, the personnel accountability profiles move with them, and unit staffing is reconfigured. See Figure 1 below for an example of one such personnel movement.


When Firefighter/Paramedic Martinez must go with Ambulance 15 to provide care for a burn victim, the incident commander moves Martinez from Engine 9 to Ambulance 15, which now shows staffing of three. Engine 9’s staffing now shows three, along with the notation of Martinez being moved to Ambulance 15. When Martinez returns, he’s given another assignment that keeps him away from returning to Engine 9. Finally, when the incident is demobilized, Martinez is returned to Engine 9 in the system.

Now imagine trying to keep up with just that one personnel movement using an active personnel accountability system. At any time during that incident, the real-time location and status of FF/PM Martinez would have been readily available to the incident commander. And that’s why a cloud-based computing and software system, that allows real-time updates from multiple sources, is the backbone for the passive personnel accountability that every firefighter and officer deserves.

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s EFO Program. Beyond his writing for and, Avsec authors the blog Talking “Shop” 4 Fire & EMS and has published his first book, “Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months – From Scratch.” Connect with Avsec on LinkedIn or via email.