The chaos of an active fire scene can make it hard to keep track of all the firefighters and equipment on site. Any firefighter can tell you that. But accountability officers, who are responsible for keeping track of everyone on the scene, know that a failure to do so can have dire consequences. Losing sight of where each firefighter is working and how they are doing can easily result in tragedy, especially if the missing firefighter is inside a burning structure. Departments that still use analog radios to communicate with firefighters inside a building face even greater challenges since these devices have difficulty penetrating structures like concrete walls (Coxworth, 2011).
The Issue with Traditional Accountability Systems
Outdated tracking devices such as cow tags, a manual accounting system that identifies who is inside and outside a structure, can work fairly well. But if the tag is misplaced or a firefighter forgets to drop it off at a central location in the rush of a fire or a search and rescue, it can be easy to lose track of them. This happens so often that, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has concluded that a poor accountability system is a common contributing factor in on-duty firefighter deaths (Kastros, 2011). Old manual systems are known for poor outcomes because when procedures aren’t followed people can get lost in the commotion.
New software programs make it easier for accountability officers to monitor events as they unfold in real time. Combined with wearable devices, the software can help improve tracking methods.
Here’s a look at some of the systems available to locate firefighters on and off the fire ground (Avsec, 2017).
The IamResponding.com system uses Android and Apple smartphones. A call comes over the phone from dispatch. A firefighter uses the phone to log in and alert dispatch (and the incident command center) that they are responding. Once on the scene, the technology uses the phone’s GPS tracking device to let the accountability officer locate the firefighter.
Two other incident management programs, Command and Control and RollCall developed by Adashi Systems, work together to notify the accountability officer of the apparatus on the scene (via the IamResponding.com software) and which vehicles are on the way. The RollCall software lets the officer know where all the personnel that have arrived are located on the fire ground.
For on-scene accountability, the OnSite Basic and OnSite ERTTM systems by FALKEN Secure Networks use tags attached to each firefighter’s turnout gear. The tags contain a chip that sends a signal when a button is pushed. Tracking software on a laptop receives the signals and alerts the officer in charge of everyone’s location.
Some systems can also alert the accountability officer if the PASS (Personal Alert Safety System) device is signaling that a firefighter is down, not moving, or needs assistance. For example, the GLANSER (Geospatial Location Accountability and Navigation System for Emergency Responders) system sends out a signal when a firefighter does not move after a few moments.
Some programs also incorporate the PHASER (Physiological Health Assessment System for Emergency Responders) approach for monitoring firefighter safety and health (Cooper, 2012). This system monitors a firefighter’s vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, and temperature) on a laptop computer at the incident command post. It alerts the accountability officer when a firefighter has a heart attack, stroke, or some other type of medical emergency and needs immediate evacuation.
Systems like Scott Connect Monitor display information such as air consumption for each firefighter. The technology relies on a device that oversees how much air is left in a SCBA tank and alerts the incident commander on the laptop when a firefighter’s air is getting low. This system also monitors the PASS devices on firefighters.
Knowing the location and safety status of all your firefighters in real time is extremely important. Relying on outdated systems and methods can jeopardize one’s safety. The availability of new technologies makes it easier to keep track of one another and improves response times if something does go wrong with a firefighter inside a burning building or on scene. Becoming familiar with the many options and determining which are best for your department and operating systems can save lives.
What type of accountability tracking and monitoring system do you use?
- Avsec, R. (2017). What’s New with Firefighter Accountability and Tracking Technology?
- Retrieved from https://www.firerescue1.com/fire-products/technology/ articles/281768018-Whats-new-with-firefighter-accountability-and-tracking-technology/
- Cooper, C. (2012). PHASER Advances Firefighter Physiological Monitoring. Retrieved from http://www.firerescuemagazine.com/articles/print/volume-7/issue-4/technology/ phaser-advances-firefighter-physiological-monitoring.html
- Coxworth, B. (2011). Improved Tracking System Being Developed for Firefighters. Retrieved from https://newatlas.com/firefighter-tracking-system/18969/
- Kastros, A (2011). Mastering Fireground Command: Calming the Chaos. Retrieved from http://www.fireengineering.com/articles/print/volume-164/issue-3/features/