Good radio skills can save firefighters' lives

Portable radios have changed the fireground communication dynamic; knowing how and when to use them can be a lifesaver

Last month we looked at communication as it relates to fireground operations and the importance of clear, concise and standard procedures. We highlighted the order model and how communication moves between the sender and the receiver.

The advent of the portable radio changed the effectiveness of firefighters on the fireground. Firefighters can work at a greater distance from incident command and from each other in terms of sectors.

The range of operation these devices enable can be vast depending upon the infrastructure set up supporting them. As technology develops, we are seeing more integration of portable radios into our PPE, SCBA and other devices.

Industry experts who champion firefighter safety as well as firefighters who work on the front lines recommend that each and every firefighter be equipped with a portable radio. This simple and small device is such a vital part of the firefighter's survival that it cannot be ignored.

3 tiers of safety

An example of this recommendation comes from the NIOSH LODD Report F2008-21 in which a volunteer fire chief was killed when he was buried by a brick parapet wall. The report's recommendations say to "ensure that every firefighter on the fireground has a portable radio with sufficient tactical frequencies to effectively communicate on the fireground."

This recommendation was made back in 2008 and is just one out of many that have been made since and before that time. So how have we progressed since that time?

There are fire departments that provide a portable radio for each firefighter, and there are those that do not. It may be not be logistically possible to provide every firefighter working on the fireground with a portable radio due to the number of firefighters present. Costs can also be a prohibiting factor.

The portable radio provides a lifeline to three distinct people: the incident commander, the dispatcher and every firefighter who has a radio. Having these three tiers of safety provides a firefighter who may need help the ability to reach not just one person, but a whole host of people.

Mayday lessons

In the attached radio clip, you will hear a mayday being declared from a captain who fell down into a building from the adjacent roof. He was not alone; another firefighter also fell in with him.

The captain declared the mayday using the radio, but we never hear from the other firefighter. This is because he was brand new and was apprehensive about using the radio to call for help.

This is where we need to train on the importance of using the radio no matter how new or how seasoned you may be. This is your lifeline for help.

What you will hear in the audio clip are good, clear, concise communications from the captain to incident command. This made a huge difference in his rescue as well as the other firefighter's rescue. This audio clip is a great training aid to show the proper way to declare a mayday using a portable radio.  

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