What’s new with firefighter accountability and tracking technology?

Robert Avsec

Firefighter accountability has been a key component of NFPA 1500: Standard for Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program since its initial adoption in 1988 (currently in its 2013 Edition).

So, why do fire departments still have such difficulty with managing the critical components of a firefighter accountability system? Critical components including:

  • Knowing who’s on the emergency scene.
  • Knowing the physical location for everyone operating on the emergency scene.
  • Being able to quickly account for the location and safety status for everyone on the emergency scene when an unexpected event happens, like a flashover, backdraft or roof collapse.

Fire departments have been using manual accountability systems, such as cow tags, passports and the like, with varying degrees of success. Yet, we still see NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention reports that all too frequently list the lack of a firefighter accountability system as a contributing factor.

Deficiencies of manual accountability systems

One of the major deficiencies of manual accountability systems and early software solutions is that they are active systems. They require the incident commander and individual firefighters to act to make the system work. Whether it involves dropping a cow tag or passport at the command post or having a barcode scanned at the command post, such systems require a disruption from the normal flow of activity.

A second deficiency is that those manual systems only address one of the critical accountability questions: who’s on the emergency scene?

Manual, active systems and barcode systems lack the ability to keep up with the changing locations for personnel operating on the scene. Those systems require active participation by the IC, or a member of their staff, to move tags on an accountability board or update positions in the software.

Advances in accountability technology

Developers of technology for better fireground accountability systems have been making some great strides in overcoming those deficiencies. One of the top developments is making participation in the accountability system passive, meaning the firefighter isn't required to take specific action to make the system work.

Here are some of the top features of seven accountability systems:

There is a growing number of apps for mobile devices using iOS (Apple) and Android platforms that can give the IC the information on who’s responding to the call along with their location.

IamResponding.com is one such app that enables firefighters to receive the call dispatch information and then log onto the call. The app then uses the individual member’s phone location to let the IC know where that member is at any time that they remain active on the call, e.g., still responding or their current location on the incident scene.

Adashi System’s Command and Control incident management software contains a Resource Management and Tracking module with full AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location) capability that allows the IC to see, communicate and re-route units in real time. The module’s drag and drop functionality enables the IC to identify roles for resources and place those resources on an incident map to reflect either their current or planned location.

When coupled with Adashi’s Rollcall staffing management software, Command and Control has real-time personnel assignments for each unit on scene. The IC can see that Engine 1 is staffed with Captain Jones and Firefighters Smith and Baker.

OnSite Basic from ERT Systems is based upon personnel tags that are kept with each firefighters PPE and always in a ready mode. Individual firefighters don’t have to do anything to make the system work except ensure that their tag is always with their PPE. The IC makes the system work with three steps:

1. Turn on the laptop and start the P.A.R. program while en route to the call.
2. Upon arrival on-scene, press the Start Incident button.
3. OnSite Basic will automatically display the list of all personnel on scene.

Newly arriving firefighters will appear in the system automatically.

When the event is over, the IC presses the End Incident button and all the information – who was on scene, when they arrived and how long they remained on the scene – is captured. Later, personnel can print that information or save the incident report in Excel or PDF file format.

The APX Personnel Accountability Application from Systems Definition, Inc. is an outgrowth of innovative software that SDI built for FDNY’s Electronic Fireground Accountability System. APAA uses the features of a fire department’s land mobile radio system to integrate a fire department’s unit and personnel data, such as ride list assignment and firefighter name, to seamlessly process and display critical personnel accountability information for the incident commander.

Together with EasyStaff, another spin-off from SDI’s work with FDNY, APAA leverages the advanced accountability features found in Motorola’s APX and XTS LMRs. EasyStaff enables a fire department to modernize how it captures the critical accountability component: who is currently on-board the responding apparatus.

The MSA Accountability System brings software together with a radio module and MSA’s ICM TxR Integrated PASS. The system can also be added to MSA’s FireHawk M7 Air Mask, providing firefighters with an integrated SCBA accountability system.

Each MSA base station can monitor up to 50 firefighters and multiple base stations can be used with a single computer. The Accountability System transmits firefighter name, team assignment, cylinder pressure, service-time remaining, PASS alarms – motion or manual, thermal alarms, battery status, radio connectivity and evacuation acknowledgement to incident command.

The SEMS II Personnel Accountability System from Scott Safety has four key components: a PASS device module; a search and rescue module to facilitate locating a downed or trapped firefighter; a Personnel Accountability System module; and a wireless transceiver, built into the PASS device, that transmits critical information between the firefighter and base command when the PASS unit is automatically or manually activated.

The PAS module operates as a two-way, visual/audible method of communications capable of monitoring the assignment and status of over 100 firefighters on scene. The PAS features two levels of accountability: personnel identity linked to their SCBA/riding position and personnel identified individually with RFID cards that plug into the module.

Scott Safety recently unveiled its Scott Connect Monitor software that displays the data received from the SEMS II giving the incident commander the capability of seeing firefighter air levels, PASS and EVAC data in a dashboard format on a computer or tablet.

The incident commander can toggle between two displays: a global view showing data for all personnel on the incident or an alert view that only displays SEMS II data for a user who is experiencing a problem. The Scott Connect Monitor software is compatible with any Air-Pak X3, Air-Pak 75 or Air-Pak NxG7 equipped with SEMS II consoles.

Fire departments must eliminate the lack of a working personnel accountability system as a contributing factor in firefighter line-of-duty deaths and injuries. These accountability systems are making a significant contribution to that effort because (1.) they’re passive (they don’t require personal action once a firefighter arrives at the incident) and (2.) they are active (they provide the IC with real-time information regarding an individual firefighter’s actual location).

References
1. ERT Systems. On-site Basic. http://www.onsiteert.com/onsite_basic.htm
2. MFRI. Firefighter Accountability Technology. https://www.mfri.org/fireresearch/ffat.html
3. New Atlas. Improved tracking system being developed for firefighters. http://newatlas.com/firefighter-tracking-system/18969/
4. MSA. Personnel Accountability System. http://s7d9.scene7.com/is/content/minesafetyappliances/MSA%20Accountability%20System%20Bulletin%20-%20EN
5. Scott Safety. Scott safety launches air management system software. https://www.firerescue1.com/fdic-2017/articles/234009018-Scott-Safety-launches-air-management-software/
6. Scott Safety. SEMS II Personnel Accountability System. https://www.scottsafety.com/en/us/DocumentandMedia1/Bro_SEMSII_HS_6773B_1012.pdf
7. Systems Definition, Inc. Fireground accountability. http://www.systemsdefinition.com/?page_id=4715
8. Urgent Communications. DHS demonstrates new firefighter-tracking system. http://urgentcomm.com/networks-amp-systems-news/dhs-demonstrates-new-firefighter-tracking-system

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