After seven months of debate, the county fire departments and other first responders now have a uniform system of accountability for emergency response.
The Passport is a system that keeps an incident commander aware of where individuals are during an emergency situation, through use of tags from fireman’s helmets or medic identification badges. According to officials, having one system for everyone will make large-scale incidents more efficient.
“Every truck in the county has one and there are about 90 first responder trucks in the area,” said Craig Churchheus, chief of the Waterloo Township Volunteer Fire Department.
The purchase of the $2,100 system was approved by the Athens County Firefighters’ Association, and paid for using membership dues and fundraisers. The purchase includes about 1,300 reusable name tags, 10 fire suppression boards (on which the name tags go when crews are assigned) and the Velcro “passports” where the nametags are put before they are brought to the incident commander.
Churchheus was one of the leaders who campaigned for the new system to replace many different systems through the county. There were some critics of the system that caused discussion of the system to stall at ACFA meetings. After seven months and some pressing from supporters, the ACFA approved the purchase at their July meeting.
“It’s easier when we have a mutual aid situation for us all to use the same system,” Churchheus said. “Waterloo, Albany and Nelsonville (fire departments) already had the system in place but others had their own, even some that used pencil and paper, depending on what they could afford.”
Emergency medical services will also be equipped with the accountability boards, to go with an internal checks they do, according to Athens County EMS Chief Rick Callebs.
County EMS is scheduled to get their systems this month, hopefully in time for the annual block party so they can train with the party’s “controlled chaos.”
“Obviously that’s not like a natural disaster, but we’d like to use the systems at the block party and the number fests and those kinds of things so not only will the crews have that training on the ground, but also the command personnel,” Callebs said.
The challenge to implementing a countywide system is changing the habits that come from having the old systems for so long, Callebs said. The only real way to make it work is to continually reinforce the process, he said.
A standard operating procedure (SOP) will also be in place for the system, written by 911 Communication Center director Dan Pfeiffer.
“The national standard doesn’t say what system to use, just that you need a system,” Pfeiffer said. “But that makes things a little difficult when large numbers of agencies are in one place. The SOP just says this is the system and this is how it works.”