Near Misses Highlight Poor Communication

Portable radios in the fire service are a widely discussed topic. But what often seems to be overlooked is not the design or reliability of the radio and communications in general, but the actual use of them. Online videos are increasingly revealing a dangerous trend of complacency in the fire service. They're highlighting freelancing and a lack of knowledge in the overall command structure and general safety of other firefighters.

The following videos exemplify the lack of communication that puts fellow firefighters in danger on the fireground, near miss situations that could have been avoided with some simple radio procedures.

Check out the following video of firefighters operating at a residential structure fire in the overhaul phase of operations:

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It is a very short clip, but very informative. The firefighter and team operating on the second floor fails to communicate with the team below. As you can see, the firefighter tosses a mattress out the window that nearly hits the firefighter working below. When operating above, firefighters should always radio below when removing contents or breaking glass above other firefighters. This alerts those below and allows them time to clear the area and move to safety.

Radio to command and clearly communicate your side (A,B,C,D or 1,2,3,4) and your operations. Wait for clearance from command below to proceed with further overhaul. Radioing to command not only alerts command and the firefighters in the immediate area of operation, it alerts RIT teams on standby and all firefighters on scene to be careful around the particular side or area of operation. In the event of an emergency, rescue crews can be dispatched more rapidly to more specific areas in question.

Watch the next video for a similar situation, in which firefighters are working on a high rise apartment fire:

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During the attack, firefighters break the glass of the apartment window and rain glass down on the sidewalk below. One piece of glass cuts and breaks a hoseline. Broken glass falling from above can even kill firefighters and civilians alike. Taking preventative measures seems obvious, but judging from these videos, it isn't that clear to those in question.

Police the area and maintain scene control. Limit your operations under the area, and always communicate to command below if breaking glass.

It is worth noting to not overload the radio with communications; too much radio communication can be dangerous in itself. Follow your department's standard operating guidelines or procedures on radio communications.

Some key points to remember in radio communications are:

  • Every firefighter working in a compromised or hostile environment should have a portable radio with an emergency distress feature.
  • Train. Much effort is placed on firefighting and skill training, but little effort is placed on communication skills and delivering good communication under stress.
  • Monitor communications. All firefighters should actively monitor radios for important information at all times.
  • Plain English over complex coding and numbers — keep it simple 
  • Chain of commands — follow your standard operating guidelines and procedures

For more information on radio communications, read the full USFA report on the subject.

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