By Jim Schiller
Published Wednesday, September 1, 2010
| From the September 2010 Issue of FireRescue
As a captain, I generally used my fingers and toes to keep track of the units I was commanding on incidents. It was a pretty easy gig—set up the incident command system (ICS) and manage five or six units and their activities until the battalion chief (BC) arrived. Once he arrived on scene, he’d slide out the glass-covered command board from the back of his rig, and I’d return to the fun (and sweat!) of firefighting.
I recently promoted to BC, meaning I’m now the person who tracks everyone for the entire incident—there’s no one to pass the buck to anymore.
The first fire I had the chance to command was a two-alarm strip-mall fire that happened just prior to a shift change. I arrived within 1 minute of the first-arriving unit and quickly assumed command. I pulled out the glass-covered command board and started writing down who was where, who was doing what, information related to station coverage—blah, blah, blah.
The glass command board in the back of the BC rig is great, but guess what happens when you lean on a dry-erase board? You wipe it off. Well, that’s exactly what happened—I accidentally leaned on the board, wiping away my work. Fortunately, the other BC arrived shortly thereafter, and we were able to get everything organized and keep the fire contained to the original portion of the strip mall. In the end, I was able to keep track of the units on the glass command board, but it certainly wasn’t fun redoing all my work. I wanted a better way to keep track of units on scene.
Enter Tactron’s Command Center, which my editors at FireRescue recently sent me to review. This command board certainly would have been a helpful addition to this incident.
Over the last couple months, I’ve had the chance to use the Command Center on a few incidents—a motor-vehicle accident (car crashed into an apartment building), a 6-acre grass fire and a multi-company ventilation drill. The board functioned great on all three incidents.
The Command Center is a bit larger than a briefcase, but it’s thin enough to be stored between seats, in a truck or on the rig’s floorboard. It weighs 19 lbs., so it won’t blow over easily. It’s constructed for survival in the trunk of a car, and the metal sides protect the interior.
Its interior surfaces are smooth dry-erase boards that are pre-labeled for use right out of the box. There are actually three dry-erase writing surfaces! The dry-erase surfaces are magnetic, too, so you can attach magnet markers—¾" x 1" magnets, some of which are labeled with positions and assignments, and others that are blank and can be written on. There’s also a set of magnets that correspond to the entire ICS structure, so you can set up and manage a large incident.
The magnets were really easy to use—much easier than writing—and it definitely helped that they were pre-labeled. There was a magnet for everything I needed, but when you do need to write, there’s a dry-erase marker and an eraser pen. If you need to expand an incident significantly, you may run out of the pre-labeled magnets, but you could then just use the blank ones—easy enough.
Also, for an additional fee, you can get a set of P.A.S.S. magnet tags that display individual names for your accountability tracking.
The Command Center features an LED light for use at night. The light, which is inside the case on the upper lid, is powered by AA batteries. The board comes with a palm-sized timer that allows you to track/time your mandatory accountability checks, and a roller clip in the upper right-hand corner of the board, so you can hang paper. There’s also an area on one of the dry-erase surfaces that’s just for drawing hazmat zones. Another great feature: The writing surfaces can be removed and placed or hung on other surfaces, if necessary.
Overall, I found Tactron’s Command Center (approximately $800) to be a very functional tool. If your organization doesn’t have the luxury of an SUV-style command vehicle with a slide-out command board, this product is a suitable solution.
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