Maintaining integrity with your crew is essential to firefighter safety. Personnel Accountability (PAR) and Company Accountability (CAR) are mainstream fundamentals for every fire agency – regardless of the population served.
One of the most vital issues in maintaining company integrity is proper communications. Yet, in order to understand how comms can save a life, it’s important to also understand how physical company integrity must be understood first. When an incident starts to go sideways, being able to visualize how things might be (notably if you’re an IC outside or away from the incident) will be essential.
Physical company integrity starts with some basic premises: Many fire departments no longer permit a single firefighter to enter a structure. Two in, two out. This simple step has saved countless lives.
Using a search rope or a hose line to determine your path continues to be used, but it suffers from significant limitations, notably that the line or hose may be compromised, or the members may lose contact with the line or hose.
Visibility is a tremendous threat to firefighter safety. During the past few decades, there have been multiple experiments with strobe lights, chemical light sticks, and light-emitting diodes. These all offer some degree of visibility in smokey conditions, but also have limitations.
More recently, the use of thermal imaging technology (TIC) has been a useful addition to the firefighter toolbox. TIC is expensive, and typically only large city agencies are using them. When in use, the results are significant.
Firefighters who are equipped for interior firefighting all carry a hand light, but how often have those failed or even worse, just been ineffective in highly charged rooms? In those situations, the light beam will highlight the smoke right in front of your face piece of your breather (you do wear one, right?), but nothing else. Overall, the hand light is important, but it, like all other tools, has a time and place. The best options permit hands free use as an option, so that a firefighter may assist someone trapped, or a partner firefighter during fire attack or rescue operations.
A PASS device can help firefighters and rescuers locate downed firefighters but typically, they do not activate until a firefighter does so or is already down. The current audible PASS device helps in identifying an emergency. Experience has shown that it is not easy to locate the direction or source of the alarm in some open areas and balloon structures. The same issue is true for other alarms and emergency triggers on radios. And, if these devices are separated from the downed firefighter, the result may be that the PASS device is rescued, not the firefighter.
So, how do these issues tie together. Collectively, every fire officer must know the limitations of the equipment they’re provided. They must understand the strengths and train to the lowest common denominator. Most importantly, repetition of incidents gone wrong training can help bring a fire company together – and safe a life.