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Understanding the system components of an in-vehicle communications system

How in-vehicle communications systems help cut through the noise and allow fire personnel to talk with ease


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Communication is important! This is a valid statement that we can all come to agree upon; however, it can be difficult at times with the other background noise around us, especially in the cab of a fire apparatus. Don’t worry, as there are great solutions readily available at a great value.

In-vehicle communication solutions

In-cab headsets have been around for a number of years, but they have now grown to be the norm in many apparatus. With system components that allow the user better control and clear communication, these headsets have greatly improved crew performance.

Fire truck ladders are extended to the roof of the site of a three-alarm fire in a four-story building on Manhattan's East side in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Fire truck ladders are extended to the roof of the site of a three-alarm fire in a four-story building on Manhattan's East side in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Headsets offer noise-canceling hearing protection while allowing the user to hear every crewmember clearly. Stereo also aids the operator to determine what direction the sound is coming from, letting the operator become further aware of their working environment and their crew location. Many headsets are equipped with a noise-canceling foam microphone attached to gooseneck boom that can be easily moved to a comfortable position so as to only capture the voice of the operator, meaning with zero background noise.

With options such as a voice-operated switch, often referred to as VOX, users can talk to other crewmembers while responding to the alarm. VOX keys the microphone of the person speaking once that person begins their conversation.

Other systems have an open microphone that permits crewmembers to have a conversation without having to activate a switch, and when the company officer is required to transmit over the department radio, the other crewmembers are muted. The company officer would merely key up the radio with a push-to-talk button on the earpiece of the headset to communicate with other responding units or the dispatch center.

Once on scene, an incident commander (IC) may elect to stay at a fixed location to manage the incident. Quite often the IC will utilize a headset to ensure that they hear clearly every radio transmission at the event, to not only mitigate the incident but also to monitor for emergency radio traffic of responders.

The use of a headset also allows the IC a more controlled workspace. Think about how we often see professional athletes getting off a plane or bus at a game with a headset on, giving them privacy and essentially shutting out the world around them so they can focus on the game ahead. This same concept is how an IC can establish their command post seclusion. Wearing the headset allows total control of all communication, not only on the radio but also others who approach the IC at the command post. The IC has the opportunity to isolate themselves when necessary and then allow conversation when the desired, as headsets establish that invisible line to the non-user when approaching the user.

While headsets have become the norm, they have also moved to a modern wireless setup, presenting another convenient form of communication. In the past you were limited to the length of the cord attached to the headset that connected back to the radio or control module. Wireless headset systems – using Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) technology – afford firefighters greater freedom and mobility without being tethered to the apparatus. DECT technology offers a greater range of operation compared to Bluetooth devices, which normally have a range of about 30 feet. With DECT technology, the headset users can communicate with one another at a range of about 300 feet from the wireless gateway or control station. Further, DECT virtually eliminates the threat of “dropped” communications.

Minimize the communication challenge

Headsets have come far in a short amount of time. With on-scene communication often being a struggle, particularly in and around apparatus, it’s important to have technology options that help minimize the challenges and allow our personnel to communicate with ease, while improving situational awareness and safety.

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