Toledo firefighters get new evacuation policy

A department memo issued by Chief Brian Byrd said every firefighter is to leave a burning building if their radios no longer work

The Blade

TOLEDO, Ohio — Toledo firefighters who lost radio contact with dispatchers while fighting a fire this month now have a new evacuation policy to use in the event of any future such outages.

Toledo Fire and Rescue Department implemented the new evacuation policy today. A department memo issued Friday by Deputy Chief Brian Byrd said every firefighter is to leave the burning building if their radios no longer work.

The fire truck closest to the building will alert them by sounding its air horn three times, pausing, then sounding it another three times.

“Upon hearing the notice to evacuate, all members shall immediately exit the structure,” he wrote.

The firefighters will then gather outside. They will fight the fire from around the exterior of the building unless command staff deems it safe to use the devices as two-way radios even if they can no longer reach dispatchers.

On Oct. 1, the day of the radio failure, Battalion Chief Damon Williams wrote in a departmental email that a system and programming error led to the problems. Communications from radio to radio worked, but firefighters were without a connection to dispatch.

If the system experiences additional failure, the communications center will dispatch firefighters by phone and assign a channel for radio-to-radio communications. Department officials are also considering assigning an officer to serve as liaison between dispatch and command staff with a cell phone, he wrote.

Deputy Chief Thomas Jaksetic, who oversees the department's communications bureau, said no residents were without service during the minutes-long radio failure. He was unsure of how long the system malfunctioned, but said the problem has been fixed.

This evacuation policy will help firefighters stay safe in case of an emergency, he said.

“Part of our mission is to plan for the unforeseen and unexpected,” Deputy Chief Jaksetic said.

He said the radio system beeps when it fails, but “depending on what they're doing, they may not hear the little beep.” A technical center for Motorola, which provides the radio, is automatically alerted during a failure as well.

Jeff Romstadt, Toledo Firefighters Local 92 president, said he's concerned the system has malfunctioned. The radio system is a necessary tool for firefighters to communicate.

“If that system totally breaks down, it's really a safety issue,” he said.

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