|Accountability - Does
your system work?
By Chief Ronald W. Richards
Obviously, anytime we place firefighters in
an IDLH atmosphere that would certainly be a hot zone. Meanwhile, if the
mission poses the risk that a firefighter could become lost, trapped, or
injured by the environment or structure those, too, would also be included
as a "hot zones". High angle rescue, confined space, trench rescue or hazardous
materials incidents would all have hot zones.
||What is accountability? Ask people
in the emergency service in different areas of the country you'll get a
wide array of answers. Most people in the fire service are familar with
the concept. Whether and if works is another story.
Simply put, accountability is a system
to account for all fire fighters within a small geographic area, within
the "hot zone" of an incident. A 'hot zone" will differ based on
the nature of the incident. The reason for the accountablity system
to is know at all times how many personel are working in a "hot zone".
are not accountability"
Some folks think that tags are synonymous
with accountability. We'd beg to differ. The photo ID tag, velcro
strip, piece of marked webbing, cow tag, ID tag or bar code card are merely
a prop used to show who you are. If the tag stays on you when you enter
the "hot zone" then there is a good chance that no one in the "cold zone"
will know you are there.
If the tag stays
on you when you enter the "hot zone" then there is a good chance that no
one in the "cold zone"
will know you are
Where does all this come
NFPA 1500 – The Standard
for Firefighter Health and Safety covers all aspects of safety
and health in the fire service. 1500 requires an accountability system
be utilized at all emergency incidents.
NFPA 1561 – The Standard
for Fire Department Incident Management provides great detail on
emergency scene management including accountability of firefighters. This
standard requires that the incident commander maintain an "accountability
and inventory worksheet" from the beginning to the end of an incident.
How is it done?
Does your department have an accountablity
system? Ask that question and you will either get blank stares or multitude
of answers why "our system is better" or "why we don't need that here...."
While there are various ways to keep track
of your folks, the bottom line is educating them and holding individuals
firefighters responsible to stay a part of a team. Their boss also needs
to know where his personnel are operating at all times. The most critical
time on the fireground is in the first twenty minutes, when resources may
be light and command officers may still be in route. It there ever
was a time when corners will be cut, this is it!
As a command structure expands then companies
or teams who report to a sector officer need to be "accountable" to that
||Keeping track of the
The Personnel Accountability Report or
PAR is a roll call of personnel. From the team leader or company
officer, a "PAR" is a confirmation that members assigned to his/her crew
are visually accounted for.
For the Sector Officer, a "PAR" is an accounting
for all crew members of all companies assigned to his/her sector. If possible,
PAR's should be face-to-face within the company or with the sector
|PAR's should be taken at regular intervals,
for example every twenty minutes. Also when there is a significant change
in the incident, for example, structural collapse, chnge in strategic mode
(offensive to defensive) or a report a firefighter missing, a PAR should
be immediately implemented. The longer the time between PAR's the better
the chance you may not be able to save a lost or missing firefighter.
longer the time between PAR's the better the chance you may not be able
to save a lost or missing firefighter..."
As the incident escalates to the level
that Accountability Officers are assigned, command should implement an
Accountability Sector to coordinate Accountability Officers. The Accountability
Sector Officer will be assigned to Safety Section. The Accountability Sector
Officer develops and implements a plan to track and account for all personnel
working in the hot zone.
Test your system?
||Does your accountability system really
work? Why not give it a test. After discussing all the details with
your bosses, run a drill and intentionally NOT have firefighter report
back or have a company officer report he is short a firefighter. What will
happen? Will it go unnoticed or will the system work. There is only one
way to find out. Use the system on all incidents test all the components.
There will never be anything more horrific
a task than to have to face a surviving firefighter's family and have to
say you didn't know he or she was in the building or worse yet, you knew
he was inside but did not realize he was missing! It's better
to find out now if your accountability system really
||About the author: Chief
Ronald Richards has over 25 years of fire service experience, both career
and volunteer. He rose through the ranks in the Forest City Fire Department,
in Forest City, PA and became Fire Chief in 1995. He held that position
through 2000 when he retired. He currently serves as the Chief for Training
and Safety for Browndale Fire Company in Wayne County, PA. Chief Richards
has over 24 years of service with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, having
served as a Fire Marshal with the Department of Public Welfare, a Fire
and Safety Specialist with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
He currently is the Assistant to the Superintendent within the PA Department
of Corrections, responsible for media relations, litigation coordination,
accreditation, and the writing of policies and procedures. Chief Richards
graduated from the State University of New York with a Bachelor of Science
Degree in Fire Service Administration. Richards is a PA State Fire
Instructor and an instructor with Command
School, He is the founder of WithThecommand.com.