There are many facets of accountability on the fireground today. One of which is the tags, rings or passports that tell incident commanders which personnel are riding each apparatus on the scene. Another major one concerns personal accountability, where the company officer has a duty and responsibility to ensure that their crew stays together and follows all policy and procedures on the fireground. A third layer, and the focus of this article is the accountability tracking of companies and personnel by the use of a tactical worksheet or command board.
In watching many websites, and perusing YouTube for fire videos, I noted several examples of incident commanders not using tactical worksheets or command boards to track movements and locations of their companies.
The practice of standing in front of structures with just a portable radio in hand, trying to track all your personnel in your head, needs to be corrected. It is completely unacceptable in the modern firefighting.
I would be a hypocrite if I were to say that I have never stood in front of a structure with just a radio and commanded incidents in the past. But, after working with and training with various command boards and using them consistently on all incidents, just not the working ones, I realized how often I mis-tracked companies and could have easily lost a crew by not tracking them religiously on the board.
When arriving on the scene of an incident the IC is bombarded with information not only from their companies operating, but also their senses. We can just not rely on only what we are hearing on the radio or being told face to face. A clear view of the incident is a must for the IC. They must be able to see the structure that the companies are operating in and also see the companies on the fireground. As the IC begins to gather all the information from the incident, such as companies operating on the scene and their location. They must immediately start the tracking process by using the command board or tactical worksheet.
The command board can come in many shapes and sizes and can be manipulated from inside the vehicle, at the back of the vehicle or in front of the structure. The use of magnets or Velcro labeled company pieces will give you the ability to move the labeled pieces to different areas of the board. They will represent where that particular company is operating at that time. The constant input of audio communications from your companies, accompanied by your visual observations of the fireground should validate the company’s locations on the fireground. And as such, this will also ensure that they are tracked correctly on your command board.
With all the inputs and distractions that incident commanders must deal with on any given incident, the chances to forget or become task saturated is great. With that being said, the IC should not become solely focused on the command board or tactical sheet and lose track of the visual aspect of the incident scene. It is a delicate balance of observation, listening and moving units into operational places on the command board.
Regardless of your department size or geography this is why it would always be a good idea to have two chiefs assigned to any working incident or have a command post aide to work with the IC to help manage the radio, visual inputs and work the command board.
The true test of the use of the command board or tactical worksheets will come to fruition for the IC when there is a dramatic event on the incident; such as a rapid change in fire conditions that could endanger companies operating or a firefighter mayday. This will be the crucial test if the IC has tracked all the company’s locations and tasks correctly on the command board. Attempting to recite location based solely on your ability to ‘remember’ is unacceptable. By using either of these tools (command boards, tactical worksheets) the Incident Commander will be able to identify where the companies are operating, if they may be in any danger and/or what assistance they may be to the operation.
The accountability and tracking of our personnel and companies on fire scenes is a crucial task for firefighter safety and one that should be used on every incident, regardless of size.
Richard Riley is the Operations Chief for the City of Clearwater, Florida and an instructor for Traditions Training, LLC
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