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Product roundup: 8 wireless headsets

Technological advances in wireless headsets are moving full steam ahead; here are eight new products worth a closer look


It hasn't been that long ago that firefighters first began seeing radio/intercom headsets for their riding positions on the apparatus. Those wired-in systems enabled the crew to communicate better amongst themselves while the vehicle was in motion.

The systems also let everyone on the crew hear radio traffic; an additional benefit was the level of hearing protection the headsets provided.

Just when you thought it couldn't get better, along come wireless radio/intercom headsets. The same explosion of wireless technology that we've all seen in computing and communication technology for home and business has now come to the world of emergency response and is being used by:

  • Driver/Operator working at pump-panel or aerial device turntable;
  • Firefighters working wildland or brush fires in conjunction with wildland fire apparatus and dozers;
  • Firefighters working behind the apparatus reloading hose or functioning as guides for backing operations;
  • Firefighters working on aerial ladders or platforms; and
  • Incident commanders to improve communication with their NIMS direct reports on scene.

Three capabilities
The first wireless headsets — and many currently on the market — use DECT 6 (Digitally Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications), which is a European standard designed for non-critical, cordless phone systems for residential use as their wireless platform.

DECT 6 operates at 1.9GHz, which is sandwiched between the high-powered transmit and receive 1.9GHz frequency bands that most major cellular carriers use in the United States. Thus the 1.9GHz frequency band has the potential to have significant interference.

Bluetooth technology is emerging as the preferred platform for wireless headsets. Bluetooth technology operates over 2.4GHz, which is a proven frequency band that's free from the interference of powerful wireless phone transmission technology. In addition, look for these three capabilities.

  • Backwards compatibility with existing hard-wired system to provide wireless capability.
  • Battery storage under normal conditions and expected battery life.
  • Capability to accept multiple radio channels, intercom and wireless device like wireless phone, scanner, etc.

The most commonly used batteries are Lithium-ion batteries, which typically yield 20 to 30 hours of power under normal operating conditions. Although none of the manufacturers specifically state it, my impression of normal operating conditions would be a 24-hour tour of duty with seven to 10 events where personnel are boarding the apparatus and activating the headset. Those events would include both emergency responses and non-emergency operations.

8 Headset products
1. Setcom latest wireless headsets have features that include a line-of-sight range of up to 1,200 feet — a typical wireless headset range is 300 feet and an advanced antenna that improves the wireless signal between the apparatus cab and an aerial platform or ladder.

Setcom is the only manufacturer to offer a direct connection from the Liberator wireless headset wireless devices like scanners, phones, and MP3 players via the Bluetooth platform.

If you already have a hard-wired system, the Liberator has backward compatibility with existing wired Setcom 900 and 1300 systems. It also has backward compatibility with systems from other manufacturers, such as David Clark, Firecom or Sigtronics.

2. The Sigtronics MRIM-2 — Mobile Radio Interface Module — connects between a single headset, push-to-talk switch and a mobile radio or use it to connect a cellular telephone to an intercom system.

The MRIM-2 offers two-way radio communication when paired with the Sigtronics emergency headsets. And, normal radio operation is possible with the standard hand microphone and speaker.

It also can be used in high-noise applications where radio communication is required but vehicle intercom is not, such as when the driver is at the pump panel or is the only person aboard the apparatus.

3. Adding to their extensive inventory of hard-wired radio/intercom headsets, the David Clark Company introduced a new line of wireless communication products and systems. The wireless systems are compatible with David Clark Series 3800 wired systems and with most HF, VHF and UHF radios.

4. Firecom's latest wireless headset systems have a programmable noise gate, a 24-hour lithium polymer hybrid battery that can be fully charged in two hours, have been tested to military specifications (MILSPEC), have an IP65 rating (resistance to solids and liquids), and are implanted with a smart charger that can handle both low- and high-power charging at varying amperages.

5. The NBP-BH wrap-around headset from Pryme features dual speakers that transmit audio directly into the user's skull, using advanced bone conduction technology. Since the dual speakers do not block the user's ears, the NBP-BH allows users to hear both incoming radio calls and what is going on around them. Also the NBP-BH mic is noise cancelling and mounted on an adjustable flex boom to place the microphone where you need it.

6. In addition, Pryme introduced a new device called the PRYMEBLU adapter that can be attached to any of its headsets, earmuffs or a throat microphone to provide Bluetooth capability. The unit is compatible with all of Pryme's Bluetooth mobile and portable radio adapters and cell phones.

7. The Pryme HDS-BT Bluetooth dual earmuff headset is similar to the company's wired models. The twist is that the headset is not only wireless, but how has Bluetooth capability as well.

8. The CommandCom from Setcom — in collaboration with Bostrom Seating — eliminates the need for a headset. Setcom engineers have integrated speakers and a microphone into the Bostrom headrest using their Phase Contouring technology.

The user has seamless communication with other crew members and over two-way radios. Some cool features for the CommandCom include:

  • Advanced Phase Contouring Technology that prevents feedback from an open microphone near a speaker. 
  • Reduced maintenance costs because there are no batteries to charge, no cables to replace, and no apparatus down time for cable repairs.
  • No extraneous noise in the vehicle when a riding position is not occupied because CommandCom is connected to the seat sensor and will only turn on when a firefighter is seated.
  • Simple retrofitting of fire apparatus.

Wireless headset technology is still in its infancy so look for the manufacturers to keep making improvements and refinements to such things as working battery life and freedom from outside interference from other wireless services. 

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