In 2020 there were close to 60,000 wildfires across the United States. The reason this number isn’t higher is that brave men and women in the wildland fire community risk their lives to contain fires every day.

One of the most important tools in their arsenal of equipment is the wildland fire radio. The Bendix King radio is the standard piece of equipment issued to most wildland fire personnel. 

If you are reading this chances are you have been issued one and need to know how to use it. This brief guide will outline how to operate your Bendix King radio in layman’s terms.

Know the Types of Radios

There are a few different types of radios that you may have in your possession. Knowing which type you have is the first step in understanding how to operate it. 

Handheld Radio

The handheld King Radio is the most portable model. It is also the simplest to use. The handheld comes equipped with a detachable “clamshell” battery pack. Some of these are rechargeable others require double-A batteries.

Keep your radio charged at all times and carry additional batteries with you in your line gear. The handheld radio is operated by depressing a button on its side. Set the appropriate channel and speak into the mic to communicate.

Mobile Radio

The mobile Bendix King unit is for vehicular use. Mounted in the cab of a truck, crew carrier, or another vehicle it has a longer range and more capabilities than a handheld. It gets power from the vehicle so battery packs are not needed.

Operating the mobile is similar to the handheld. It is push-to-talk but comes with a radio-mic extension that allows you to use it from the driver’s seat. Set your desired channel and depress the button to transmit.

Base Station

The King base station is meant to stay in a fixed location. It has the longest range and most capabilities of any of the radios. It also operates in a push-to-talk manner.

Choosing Channels and Groups

On the traditional Bendix King radio, there are 25 groups with 16 channels. Some models of radio may have more or fewer channels and groups. Each channel is a programmable frequency that you can transmit on.

Each group encompasses the set channel list that the incident command has selected for the fire you are on. Think of channels like radio stations. When you arrive at an incident you will be told what channels and groups to use.

Programming and Cloning Your King Radio

To get the right frequencies for your incident onto your radio you will need to utilize some basic programming and cloning techniques. Programming is the process of manually inputting information to customize your radio.

Cloning is the process of copying someone else’s preset frequencies through the use of a cloning cable. You can find out how to do both by consulting NWCG’s radio training course.

Channel Designators

On a fire, there are a few different designations that can be given to a radio channel or group of channels. The following are the primary examples.

Command Channels

Command channels are where incident commanders discuss important information about the entire fire. Unless you are in a leadership role you should avoid talking on this channel unless it is vital.

The command channel is reachable on all areas of the fire via the use of a repeater. If you say something on a command channel, all firefighters within hundreds of miles will hear you.

Tactical Channels

Tactical channels are for your specific division or segment of the fire. You, your immediate overhead such as a task force or division, and any adjacent resources will use it to communicate.

Tactical channels are also the preferred method for inter and intra-crew communication. Tactical channels have a smaller range than command channels with fewer ears listening in.

Crew Channels 

Most incident commanders frown on crews programming in crew channels. In certain cases, it is also illegal. Some type 1 crews have exemptions to facilitate tactics.

Before programming in a crew channel make sure to talk to your overhead to ensure it is ok. Crew channels are a direct means of communication between crew members. The range of crew channels is the smallest of all.

Aerial Channels

Aerial channels such as air-to-ground facilitate communication with aircraft. Air-to-ground is the preferred channel for air resources to communicate with ground personnel and vice versa. 

There are also air-to-air channels and air command channels to facilitate all aspects of aerial operations. Unless you are interacting with aerial resources don’t talk on these channels. Listening to them can however give you intel.

Radio Etiquette

While using your radio there are some set standards and procedures that you need to follow. The first pertains to radio etiquette. Let’s examine what proper radio etiquette consists of.

Speaking Into the Radio

You should always speak clearly and concisely while operating your radio. Never swear or use slang. Hold your radio a few inches from your face to avoid distortion. Never breathe into your radio.

Press the transmit button a full second before speaking and keep it depressed until a second after you have concluded your transmission. Keep your transmission a few seconds long.

Radio Breaks

If you have a more long-winded transmission, break it up into sections. At the end of each transmission say the word “break” to indicate you have more to say. The only exceptions would be for things like reading fire weather.

Avoid “Walking On” Other Transmissions

Every time somebody is transmitting on a channel, it will block out all other transmissions. If you and another party attempt to transmit at the same time both transmissions will cancel each out and become unintelligible.

When fire activity picks up, everybody will have something to say about it on the radio. If someone else is speaking don’t transmit until they are done. Otherwise, nobody will be able to get their message across.

Clearing Channels

If someone asks to clear the channel you need to stop all of your radio transmissions immediately. Channels can be cleared for medical emergencies, life and death situations, or at the request of incident command.

If a tactical or command channel that you were using is cleared, switch to another channel to use in its place and continue radio operations.

Know Your Equipment

Learning how to operate a Bendix King radio is easy if you have the right information. Mastering every nuance of your radio, however, can take years of experience and trial and error.

If you need more guidance on how to operate your radio, or if you need to purchase a new one contact us today. We can help you with all areas of Bendix King radio sales, repair, and education. More content like this is on our blog.