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Rapid response: Radio traffic key to MCI management

Radio traffic between dispatch and responding units during campus shooting highlights how it’s done

What we know: All hell broke loose in a sleepy Oregon community Thursday when a 26-year-old gunman opened fire on a community college campus killing nine and wounding seven.

What’s significant: It would be excusable if dispatch and responding units were excited and incoherent over the radio. But the 30-minute audio recording of that traffic shows a much different scenario.

Police, fire, medic and central dispatch were calm, clear and concise in their communications. That says a lot for a low-crime area where responders don’t get a lot of real-life practice.

Takeaways: Many of us have been on far less intense incidents yet had radio traffic that was far more rushed, garbled and unintelligible than what we saw out of Douglas County Fire District 2 responders, the police and the dispatcher. This incident is a reminder of the value of good radio communication skills. Here are some things to think about as we process the lessons from Roseburg, Ore.

Train them early: Spend more time in the fire academy training cadets on proper radio use. This includes training them to communicate in stressful situations.

Take control: For a successful outcome, fire and EMS must control the scene, not be controlled by it. This is much like dealing with an irate individual and not allowing your level of excitement to be dictated by their excitement. Be in control before keying the microphone.

Be simple: Humans are hardwired to be very vocal when stressed. That’s bad for emergency scene radio communication. Self edit and deliver only the words needed to convey the message.

Further reading: 4 skills for better radio communication

Rick Markley is the former editor-in-chief of FireRescue1 and Fire Chief, a volunteer firefighter and fire investigator. He serves on the board of directors of and is actively involved with the International Fire Relief Mission, a humanitarian aid organization that delivers unused fire and EMS equipment to firefighters in developing countries. He holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s of fine arts. He has logged more than 15 years as an editor-in-chief and written numerous articles on firefighting. He can be reached at