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‘Pop quiz, hotshot’: Is your portable radio up to the task?

Here’s how L3Harris’s new model meets the new NFPA 1802 standard

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Does your current radio meet all of your fireground needs?


Sponsored by L3Harris Public Safety and Professional Communications

Question No. 1: What actions must a firefighter take when they find themselves in a mayday situation?

  1. Verbally declare “Mayday, mayday, mayday!” using their portable radio.
  2. Push the emergency activation (mayday) button on their portable radio or remote microphone.
  3. Activate the PASS on their SCBA or standalone PASS device.
  4. Following mayday acknowledgment by the incident commander (IC), transmit your status over your portable radio using a pneumonic like LUNAR (location, unit, name, air supply, resources needed) or a simple “Who, what, where?” model.
  5. All the above.

Answer: All the above.

Question No. 2: What do those answers have in common?

Answer: A portable radio.

Question No. 3: Are you and your portable radio up to the task?

While only you know the answer to that last question, if your portable radio is the L3Harris XL Extreme fire solution (400P portable radio and speaker mic), then you’re halfway to answering that question in the affirmative. But to get full credit for a correct answer, you must know and understand all the features of the XL Extreme Fire Solution 400P.

New NFPA standard

When it comes to interior firefighting operations, everything you use when entering a hazardous area must comply with the applicable NFPA standard:

  • NFPA 1971 for your helmet, coat, pants, boots and gloves
  • NFPA 1981 for your SCBA
  • NFPA 1801 for your thermal imaging camera

But this left a hole in coverage for your portable radio and remote speaker microphone (RSM). The hole was closed in January 2021, when NFPA published NFPA 1802: Standard on Two-Way, Portable RF Voice Communications Devices for Use by Emergency Services Personnel in the Hazard Zone.

An important addition to NFPA 1802 was the definition of a hazard zone mode of operation as, “The area where members might be exposed to a hazard or hazardous atmosphere; or a particular substance, device, event, circumstance or condition that presents a danger to members of the fire department.”

With that definition, the technical committee for NFPA 1802 created requirements for radio and RSM use in a hazard zone that required devices to have:

  • An ergonomic “glove-friendly” design to ensure ease of operation by a firefighter in full structural firefighting PPE.
  • A larger emergency activation button (EAB) for use with a gloved hand.
  • Loud audio volume by default for use in loud environments.
  • A confirmed power-off feature to prevent any accidental powering down.
  • Multiple new voice announcements to indicate the unit is powering off, is over temperature, has a low or dead battery, or a failed RSM has been attached.
  • A cable fault-detection feature that assesses if the RSM cable has been compromised by heat or mechanical force and alerts the firefighter via a voice announcement that the radio has automatically reverted to its internal microphone and speaker.
  • An over-temperature detection feature that alerts the firefighter that they are operating the radio and RSM outside their safe temperature range.
  • Support for Bluetooth-capable accessories such as a microphone in the SCBA facepiece.

Firefighters speak up

When firefighters were asked what they didn’t like about their fire department’s portable radios, the most frequent answers were:

  1. “I can’t operate the controls with my gloves on.” This is a common occurrence that leads many firefighters to remove their glove to operate their radios – not a good thing to do when operating in a high-temperature environment.
  2. “I have a tough time ensuring I’m on the correct channel.” This is not a good situation to be in when you’re in a mayday situation and trying to get help.
  3. “I can’t easily access all the functionality because of the accessories needed to make it rugged.” Our tools shouldn’t work in only one way that’s helpful, compromising other features.

It’s precisely those problems, and the new requirements of NFPA 1802 for portable radios and RSMs, that drove the engineers at L3Harris in bringing to market the XL Extreme 400P portable radio – an NFPA 1802-compliant radio designed for ease of use, especially in a mayday situation. No firefighter should find themselves struggling with their portable radio – their lifeline – when trying to survive a mayday event.


No firefighter should find themselves struggling with their portable radio – their lifeline – when trying to survive a mayday event.


‘Crawl, walk, run’ through radio training

As with any piece of critical firefighting equipment, it’s important that firefighters become skilled in using the key safety features of the XL Extreme 400P. First, don’t assume any previous experience using a portable radio is applicable to using this new generation of fire service radios. Thoroughly review the operations manual provided by L3Harris to become informed and educated about all the radio’s capabilities.

Next, learn to “crawl” before you try to “walk.” Practice using the radio’s features with your structural firefighting gloves on and your eyes open to develop the necessary muscle memory to flawlessly operate the radio. When you’re comfortable using the features with your eyes open, begin to learn to “walk” by operating the features with gloved hands while blindfolded.

Finally, learn to “run” by operating the radio’s features while wearing all your structural firefighting PPE, breathing cylinder air from your SCBA, in an atmosphere with ambient noise (e.g., near running fire apparatus or a small gasoline-powered engine). Having the ambient noise will aid in developing your ability to use the volume controls, switch channels and understand warning signals, like when you disconnect the RSM and the radio reverts to its internal microphone.

Safety features benefit the IC

The XL Extreme 400P has some equally robust features to aid the IC in responding to a mayday declaration safely, effectively and efficiently.

When a firefighter declares a mayday, the IC must take two critical actions, and both involve a radio:

  1. Assign fire operations to a separate tactical channel and have everyone except the distressed firefighter move to that second channel.
  2. Remain in direct radio contact with the distressed firefighter on the original radio channel until the mayday has been resolved.

The XL Extreme 400P has several features that make it easier for the IC to execute those critical actions following a mayday declaration and during the ongoing rescue:

  • A Visual Zone Detection Indication feature that provides the IC and everyone on the fireground with quick visual confirmation that all users are on the same radio group or channel. It also delivers loud, clear audio with noise cancellation for added clarity.
  • LTE operations capability that gives the IC the ability to transmit and receive voice or data over FirstNet, AT&T or Verizon networks. The XL Extreme 400P also has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS capabilities built in, and the dual SIM design allows multiple carriers on the same device.
  • The XL Extreme 400P that provides interoperability during multiagency responses (these are much more common today, especially in areas served by volunteer-staffed departments), as well as secure voice and data transmission.
  • Data-logging capability that allows the radio functions as a “black box,” like the flight data recorders carried aboard commercial aircraft, that enables the radio to store critical data (the last 200 events) for after-action reviews.

Two47 solution bolsters command

In concert with the development of the XL Extreme 400P, L3Harris developed the Two47 Incident Command Solution, which provides ICs with an enhanced situational awareness by linking on-scene P25 portable radios and SCBA components with an incident command dashboard. This gives the IC immediate notifications and updates for critical firefighter safety elements, including:

  • Air supply levels for on-scene operating SCBAs
  • Remaining battery power levels for on-scene portable radios
  • Physical locations for all personnel operating on scene using portable radios
  • The ability to run personnel accountability reports (PARs) with all P25 user devices

With its customizable, interactive dashboard, fire departments can pair the Two47 Incident Command Solution with existing applications and devices to deliver a comprehensive view of any incident.

Tough talk

NFPA 1802 addresses not only what a portable radio should be able to do, but also what it should be able to withstand when being used in the hazard zone to ensure it continues to operate. The XL Extreme 400P – without any added protective lining – met those performance and durability standards through testing that included being:

  • Dropped from a height of 10 feet multiple times
  • Broiled at 500 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes
  • Shocked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes six times
  • Torched at 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 seconds
  • Frozen
  • Drowned at five meters for four wet hours
  • Abraded with corrosive salt water and humidity
  • Tumbled for three dizzying hours
  • Vibrated for up to three hours
  • Stretched up to 35 pounds
  • Compressed up to 442 pounds

That’s what it takes to become an NFPA 1802-compliant portable radio. Can your fire department’s current portable radios stand up to that sort of punishment? If not, then consider adding the XL Extreme 400P to your radio pocket or carry strap. Because in a mayday situation, you’ll need nothing less.

This article originally appeared in “The Mayday Training Evolution,” a FireRescue1 Digital Edition. Get a copy of the guide.

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s EFO Program. Beyond his writing for and, Avsec authors the blog Talking “Shop” 4 Fire & EMS and has published his first book, “Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months – From Scratch.” Connect with Avsec on LinkedIn or via email.