How to buy firefighter accountability systems

By Brian Ward

Having an accountability system in place on the fireground is crucial. But the bottom line is no matter what system you use, you need to ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows every detail of how your system works.

Make it simple and manageable – this will ensure interoperability when mutual aid is needed and compliance within your own department. Your mutual aid counterparts may not need to know every detail of your system; however, it may help if they could at least understand the concept of how your system works.

Here are the main things to consider when buying an accountability system.

Ease of Use
An important consideration to remember when implementing an accountability system is that even a million dollar system is only as good as the operator. Ret. U.S. Navy Captain Michael Ashbroff said, "Technology is only a facilitator. It's only as good as the person using it." Choose a system that one person can operate or, in most cases, one that the Incident Commander can effectively use to aid them while operating at an incident.

Different Systems
There are several systems to consider, from the simple passport system to the computerized electronic trackers that tell you each firefighter's age and weight. You must consider exactly what your fire department's focus is and how you wish to use the system.

Neighboring Departments
When considering an accountability system, look at your neighboring departments. Ask them about the pros and cons of their systems. What do they like? What would they change? What would they get rid of? These will give you some ideas for your system but also allow you to take the best of the worlds around you. In addition, your system will be comparable to the departments that you run mutual aid with.

There are also some standards that you may find beneficial to review before you decide on one specific system. Once your department has chosen an accountability system, write some simple SOPs on how it should be used and strictly enforce the compliance of this SOP. There is no place in the fire service for freelancing, especially something as simple as letting the IC know that you have arrived. The system chosen should also be included in your department's Risk Management Plan. An explanation for the Risk Management Plan can be found in NFPA 1250 Recommended Practice in Emergency Service Organization Risk Management.

Be sure to review the following documents as well for further explanations on NFPA requirements. 

  • NFPA 1561 Standard on Emergency Services Incident Management System, specifically JPR 4.5 Resource Accountability.
  • NFPA 1500 Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health, specifically JPR 8.4 Personnel Accountability During Emergency Operations.
  • Any other suggestions? Anything we missed in the list above? Leave a comment below or e-mail with your feedback.

Brian Ward is a Training Officer in the Career Development Division for the Gwinnett County Fire Department and the Vice-Chairman of the Metro Atlanta Training Officers. Brian currently serves as a State of Georgia Advocate for Everyone Goes Home and Courage to be Safe Trainer. He holds an Associates Degree of Fire Science and is pursuing his Bachelors with the University of Cincinnati. He is also the Founder of and organizer of Gwinnett County Leadership and Safety Conference. Brian can be contacted at

Join the discussion

Copyright © 2022 FireRescue1. All rights reserved.