There are many facets of accountability on the fireground today. One key aspect 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 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's completely unacceptable in modern firefighting.
I would be a hypocrite if I said that in the past I've never stood in front of a structure with just a radio and commanded incidents. But after working with and training with various command boards and using them consistently on all incidents—not just the working ones—I realized how often I mistracked companies and could have easily lost a crew by not tracking them religiously on a board.
When arriving to incident scenes, ICs are bombarded with information from not only their operating companies, but also their senses. We can't rely on only what we're hearing on the radio or being told face to face. A clear view of an incident is a must for the IC. An IC must be able to see the structure 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, he or she 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 a vehicle, at the back of a vehicle or in front of the structure. The use of magnets or Velcro labeled company pieces provides an IC the ability to move pieces to different areas of the board. These pieces represent where a particular company is operating at any given time.
The constant input of audio communications from the companies, accompanied by visual observations, should validate the companies' locations on the fireground. This will also ensure they're tracked correctly on your command board.
With all the inputs and distractions that ICs must deal with on any given incident, the chances to forget or become task-saturated is great. 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 an incident scene. It's a delicate balance of observation, listening and moving units into operational places on the command board.
Regardless of your department's size or geography, managing this delicate balance is why it's always a good idea to have two chiefs assigned to any working incident or have a command-post aide working with an IC to help manage the radio and visual inputs and work the command board.
The true test of a command board or tactical worksheets is when there's a dramatic event at an incident, such as a rapid change in fire conditions that could endanger companies operating or a firefighter mayday. This will truly test whether the IC has tracked all the companies' 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 or tactical worksheets), an IC can identify where the companies are operating, if they may be in any danger and 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.