Every professional magazine or book harps on the word accountability, however typically only one form of the word is identified. Accountability on the fireground is ensuring you know where the people are so that as a fire service leader you are able to properly maintain the scene. In regards to the words other uses, many times it is left in the dictionary and never used like it should be.
Beyond the fireground accountability is more encompassing of the work we do on a day-to-day basis. It involves using cause and effect to truly look at what your people are doing and how efficiently they are completing their tasks. It should be in place to protect the taxpayers trust that we responsibly use the money obtained from their hard-earned paychecks. Ultimately, it means that every single person has someone to answer to for the things they have done, both good and bad.
Generally speaking this word comes up when it revolves around big-ticket items. If someone does an exceptional job maintaining or damages a fire apparatus, all levels of management step up and say something. Why doesn’t that same attitude apply to the other aspects? When we put on the uniform, we are accepting a lot of responsibility. Even the lowest ranking member is accepting the responsibility to maintain a positive image of the department. To prove that point, look at any media agency to find a story about a firefighter, former firefighter, volunteer firefighter, or retired firefighter. I don’t read about John Smith, a plumber for Acme plumbing did ____ however, once affiliated with the fire service, it is a life long tag.
In addition to the responsibility to maintain a positive image, many firefighters are responsible for large sums of taxpayer money in the form of tools and equipment. As the company officer are you using the tools to properly ensure the accountability of that equipment? Are you using itemized checklists, maintenance schedules, inventory lists (more accurate than an engineers memory), calendars to track sick days and call-outs, or other tangible means to track how accountable your people are? Moving beyond the leadership side towards a managerial side, the use of documentation is a control program to hold people accountable. Don’t rely on memory or other fallible methods to track performance. That leads to inconclusive or inadequate evaluations which by-the-way is another accountability tool. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to keep a personal journal of events that occur. Just like a station log book, if you have an evaluation to do or a question about when something was put into effect, turning back the pages can answer many of our questions.
Basically, as you progress through the ranks, you will need to utilize the tools of the trade to ensure you are holding your people accountable and like many passionate books/articles mention, don’t forget to apply that word to the fireground as well.