By Alan M. Petrillo
Firefighter accountability always has been a concern on fire scenes—knowing who’s there, their physical locations, and tasks being performed.
In recent years, technology has been put to work on fireground accountability systems that improve the situational awareness of incident commanders (ICs) and other officers as well as individual firefighters.
Daniel Seidberg, president of IamResponding.com, makes an Internet app for smartphones that allows an IC to know when individual firefighters are on the way to a call and where they are located through live tracking. “IamResponding starts with prescene accountability and ends with post-scene accountability,” Seidberg says. “The app can be used on smartphones or legacy flip phones. The firefighter simply presses a button on the app, which then transmits his data and GPS location.”
Seidberg notes the system can track the location of each firefighter on a scene as long as they have his device with him, identifying him by name and position. “In most instances, it will penetrate into a building, like on most residential structures, but not ones with a lot of steel in them unless they are on the roof,” he points out. “There also is a height limitation in that the system cannot distinguish what floor of a multistory building the firefighters are on. But on a scene like a wildland incident or other exterior scene, the IC can see where firefighters are located relative to other markers that can be overlaid on a map showing the fire lines and the actual fire.”
Adashi Systems makes incident command and management software that features an automatic vehicle location function to allow an IC to know which units are responding and communicate with them, according to Sanjay Kalasa, Adashi’s president. Coupled with Adashi’s RollCall staffing tool, Kalasa says, “the IC can know through a dashboard who is assigned to the incident and on what apparatus. The IC is advised when the apparatus is en route, and if it is not assigned to a specific task, can send a message through an app to give them an assignment.”
Kalasa points out, “We also have an annotation tool where the IC can assign various assets and mark them on a map, so he has a way of knowing where the companies are located.” The system’s personnel accountability report (PAR) shows all the companies on the scene, what they are assigned to, and who is assigned to each vehicle. The system will prompt the IC to do a PAR check in the first 10 to 20 minutes at an incident. “If there’s a Mayday, it notifies everyone on the system, and they can see the firefighter’s last known position,” Kalasa says. “We also have the capability to record how much air is left in a firefighter’s self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) tank.”
Andrew Jarrett, president and chief executive officer of ResponderX Inc., says his TaskForceTracker uses the latest technology to provide location and condition of firefighters information to an IC. The tracker is a waterproof and fireproof unit about the size of a deck of cards, Jarrett says, and typically is mounted on the back of a firefighter’s helmet by a quick-detach plate. The unit communicates with hubs wired into apparatus that have built-in cell phone connectivity, allowing the system to stream data to an online Web portal. “The hub also acts as a Web server, forms a hot spot around itself, and can host a console locally or upload to the cloud,” Jarrett says.
Each tracker has a unique identifier, Jarrett notes, and the tracker will work when in a firefighter’s pocket. But, he cautions that “the human body absorbs radio frequency (RF) waves, so we recommend using a side or back pocket. But, the head is the best location because it doesn’t block RF very much compared with the torso.”
Jarrett says the system is in final testing now with the Bryan (TX) Fire Department and that he expects it to be commercially available by the end of the year. “We also have a mapping function that can use loaded preplan maps or street views from satellites,” he notes. “Each individual shows up as a colored dot with its identifier in real time. We also have a ‘breadcrumbing’ function to see where a firefighter has been and the path taken. Using the cloud, we can have a view of the entire scene from start to finish.”
Systems Definition Inc.
Systems Definition Inc. (SDI) makes the APX Personnel Accountability Application (APPA), says president Frank Briese, which grew out of a project his company did for the Fire Department of New York’s Electronic Fireground Accountability System. Briese says APPA uses a department’s mobile radios to integrate with department personnel data then quickly process and display personnel accountability information for an IC. “Our software enables rapid handling of emergency alerts and streamlined incident roll calls via portable radio keying,” Briese notes. “It’s easy-to-use software that bolsters safety activities and reduces the time required to account for firefighter status on the fireground.”
When coupled with SDI’s EasyStaff® software, chiefs and officers can fill out tour rosters that link personnel, position, and assignment identification with the APAA system, Briese says. EasyStaff is an online cloud application running on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud and can be accessed by any modern browser, he adds.
MSA Accountability System
The MSA Accountability System uses a long-range radio in the company’s G1 SCBA, which communicates with a base station that has a communications link with an IC’s tablet or laptop, says Jason Traynor, MSA’s global product business director for respiratory protection and fire helmets. “The system sends information about air and time remaining and can send two-way communications for evacuation or to acknowledge receipt of an IC’s message,” he says. Up to 50 firefighters can be monitored on a single base station, Traynor notes. The accountability system shows the firefighter’s name, assignment, PASS alarms, thermal alarms, battery status, and SCBA bottle pressure and time remaining.
“We currently are exploring ways to automate a PAR check into the system, but right now the firefighter has to be in an SCBA to be in the system,” Traynor points out. “We are looking at using sensors and other modern electronics to learn more about the scene, such as temperatures firefighters are being exposed to and how they affect physiological monitoring.” Traynor notes that Globe Manufacturing Inc. has a chest band as part of its Wearable Advanced Sensor Platform (WASP) system that can collect physiological data from firefighters and extrapolate core body temperatures. “We are looking at incorporating that into our accountability system,” he says.
3M Scott Fire & Safety SEMS II
John Dinning, business unit manager for 3M Scott Fire & Safety, says the company makes the SEMS II Personnel Accountability System that is made up of four major elements. “There’s a PASS device, a personnel accountability system module, a search and rescue module, and a wireless transceiver in the PASS unit,” Dinning says. “The module can monitor the status and assignment of more than 100 firefighters on a scene.”
Dinning notes that the PASS tracker is separate from the SEMS II system and uses a low-frequency radio signal but that every SCBA can act as a repeater for the SEMS network. The SEMS system continuously monitors air pressure, time on scene, and PASS alarm status; can send evacuation signals to assigned groups or all firefighters on a scene; can acknowledge PASS signals and establish or change assignments; and automatically records incident data.
Grace Industries makes the TPASS 5, says Dan Smith, director of sales and marketing. “TPASS 5 is a wireless PASS alarm and accountability tool with radio telemetry that talks with an accountability system,” Smith says. The system can be used to send out a Mayday, call for an evacuation, or do a PAR check, he adds.
The company makes two accountability systems: In-Command Full Crew, typically used by career departments with laptops or tablets running Windows 10 or Windows 7 software, and In-Command First-In, designed for the volunteer fire service and used on an Android tablet. “Both versions show a display of all the firefighters who are active,” Smith says, “and the IC can monitor if the firefighter has a low battery or is in a high-temperature situation and can communicate PAR checks and evacuation commands with all of them.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist, the author of three novels and five nonfiction books, and a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.