Accountability board is key in firefighters' mobile command post
WORCESTER — Firefighter Paul M. “Aldo” Bastardo is not only behind the wheel of the command vehicle dubbed “Car 3,” he is also manning a mobile command center, which is equipped with everything one needs to strategically fight a stubborn blaze and help secure the safety and whereabouts of its firefighters.
As the aide to District Fire Chief Samuel W. Richesson, Firefighter Bastardo, a 35-year-plus veteran of the fire department, keeps track of firefighter personnel, engines, ladders and pumps at a scene, as well as civilians, neighboring dwellings, paramedics, police, the electric company, the gas company, and media.
And Firefighter Bastardo does all this with the help of an “accountability board,” a magnetic board with movable pieces housed in a suitcase that resembles a suburban “Risk” game — but this is no game. The “accountability board,” purchased a few months ago for about $1,000, as well as the equipment and gear in the command vehicle, reduce the risks inherent to accountability, second-guessing, safety and fighting fires.
“What we have here is one of two vehicles we have in the department. This is a mobile command post. It's also a mobile office,” Firefighter Bastardo said, standing in front of Car 3 inside the garage at the Grove Street fire station. “And what that means is, we bring our resources with us to the scene of a call, so that the incident can be handled by the incident commander and he has resources right there available to him to make decisions to help reduce and/or eliminate loss of life and loss of property.”
Chief Richesson and Firefighter Bastardo answer between 1,800 and 2,000 calls a year in the mobile command vehicle. They explained how the vehicle and equipment are used in an interview just over two weeks ago, before the fatal fire on Arlington Street that claimed the life of Firefighter Jon D. Davies Sr. on Dec. 8.
En route to a potential fire, the chief formulates his game plan.
“While he's (Firefighter Bastardo) physically driving, I'm doing several things. I'm communicating on the radio with other units that are also responding on the call. I'm looking up hydrant locations, trying to find different routes, getting information on the type of buildings that we are going to,” he said. “I'm also formulating strategies and tactics for when we arrive on the scene. And the ability to be able to do that maximizes my abilities, to be able to run and manage the incident once we get there. The nature of these types of emergencies requires many decisions to be made in a very rapid succession. The job of the chief's aide or command tech really starts when we get to the scene. As I'm committing resources to individual areas, he's tracking them. Having him allows me to focus on the fire.”
When they arrive at a fire, Chief Richesson becomes the “incident commander,” while Firefighter Bastardo becomes the “command tech,” tracking the companies, firefighters and equipment, as well as gathering information on potential resources that are at the chief's disposal.
“Think of an incident commander as the coach on a football team,” Firefighter Bastardo said. “You have the players out on the field that execute the plays, but you have the coach who is actually calling the shots from behind the scene. And that's what the incident commander does. He formulates a game plan and he gives specific tasks to individual companies. … What he's trying to accomplish is a coordinated fire attack.”
While the chief is running the operation, the chief's aide is running the command post with the help of the accountability board.
In the backseat of the command vehicle is 50 pounds of fire-retardant protective equipment and safety hard hats for Chief Richesson and Firefighter Bastardo. There is also a list of everybody on duty at the command post. Also inside the command vehicle is plenty of reading material: surface maps of all the city's streets, parcel lots, and above-ground water mains, as well as specific sizes of the pipes and location of the hydrants, underground maps, a list of vacant buildings in the city, operational guidelines for any type of emergency situation imaginable, hazardous materials handbooks, pre-fire plan books with floor maps to certain commercial buildings and another for any given aircraft that lands at Worcester Regional Airport.
Although they have always accounted for firefighters and resources on the scene, the Worcester Fire Department has only had the accountability boards for the last three to four months. In a short time, it has increased the effectiveness of the operation and it has enhanced firefighter safety, Chief Richesson said.
“What it evolved into is something that truly enhances firefighter safety,” Chief Richesson said. “Fire scenes are inherently chaotic enough. Having a system like this in place allows us to keep track of where resources are. And the better management you have of your resources lends itself to a safer emergency incident operation.”
By Craig S. Semon TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF