Firefighters know that communication is the key to any effective emergency strategy. With wildfires terrorizing more of the country every year, reliable communication between firefighters is integral to preventing loss of life.

As of June 24, there have been 29,564 wildfires across the United States in 2021. A total of 1,192,236 acres have already burned. The unfortunate news is that we aren’t even at the height of the season yet.

If you’re new to the profession of a firefighter, you will need to know how to use fire radios.

Using a radio might sound straightforward, but fire radio communication has specific rules and procedures. These practices allow firefighters to maximize clarity and efficiency during emergency situations.

What Is a Fire Radio?

A fire radio is a portable, two-way radio. The fire department radio is integral to operational safety. 

Sometimes the fire department operates the radio system. Other times a regional communications center or other agency handles the fire department radio operation. This might be a police department or sheriff’s office.

Some radio systems are very limited and consist of less than a dozen radios. Other radio systems are quite vast. They can contain networks of over a thousand different portable fire radio scanners and base radio units.

Larger fire departments may even have computerized dispatching systems or mobile data terminals. But you can be sure almost every fire department has a radio system, no matter its size.

How Do You Use Fire Radios?

Learning the correct way to use a fire radio is key to the effectiveness of any firefighter. If you’re new to fire department radios, you’ll want to check out this beginner’s guide to radio communications.

Here is everything you need to know about how to best operate a fire radio.

Addressing the Challenges to Radio Transmission

Operating a radio under the conditions of a fire emergency or wildfire has its share of challenges.

There are many people who are trying to communicate very important information. When and how well that information gets communicated has a significant effect on the ability of the firefighting team to function and combat the fire.

It’s usually very loud when you’re on the ground during a wildfire. There’s the sound of the fire, as well as the sounds of power saws and striking tools. Visibility is limited through the smoke.

On top of that, firefighters wear large and bulky safety gear which makes handling and using a radio difficult. A fire radio strap is a helpful product to keep your radio from falling off when you bend over.

Wireless radios can also experience interference from background noises. That is why it is important to practice using a fire radio before you’re in an emergency situation.

Proper Radio Procedures

You may think using a fire department radio is the same as using any other two-way radio. This is not true. To ensure the clearest standards of communication, fire departments have specific radio procedures. 

Before you open your radio channel, decide exactly what you want to say. When you know what message you want to transmit, hold the microphone one or two inches away from your mouth.

Key the mic and allow the channel to open before you speak. This will ensure you do not cut off the beginning of your message. Hold the radio upright and point the antenna up.

When relaying your message, there are a few points to keep in mind.

  • Speak at a regular voice level
  • Keep your message brief
  • Be confident 
  • Control your inflection and tone of voice
  • Communicate with as much clarity as possible

If you are the first officer or unit to arrive at an emergency event, it is your responsibility to transmit what is called “a size-up” of the situation. A proper size-up includes the location or address and a brief evaluation of the situation.

If the emergency is a fire, the evaluation of the situation should include the fire phase and the selected attack mode in the initial size-up.

After you give this initial report, check back every ten to fifteen minutes with updates on the situation.

An update might include changes in tactics or command location. The direction of fire spread, exposure conditions, and anticipated challenges are also important to include in your updates.

Identifying Individual Firefighters on Portable Radios

If you’re working with a large department, you might wonder how to keep identities straight when using fire department radio systems.

Some departments use unit numbers or tactical assignments, while others use letters or names. Whichever identification method you use, a well-functioning radio identity system enables effective and safe emergency operations.

Effective radio identity systems do more than facilitate emergency communication. They are also an important aspect of fire department accountability systems.

Here are a couple of identification methods that work.

Letter System

Many fire departments identify firefighters on the radio by using a letter associated with their riding position on the fire rig.

In one example, the officer is called Ladder 1A, the driver is Ladder 1B, and the four crew members are Ladder 1C, 1D, 1E, and 1F. These identities are used for all radio transmissions.

This system is ideal when the radios are assigned to positions on the rig rather than to individuals. In other methods, the radio identities might be assigned to tactical jobs or specific individuals.

Individual Radios

If you work in a smaller department with fewer people, you might be able to assign each firefighter their own radio. This is a much easier system because each firefighter gets identified by their own name.

In this system, rank always precedes name when making contact over the radio. You also need to know the name of the person you are addressing.

The trick with assigning individual radios is that you don’t always know who is on the various rigs or what position they are riding in. Using position names instead of individual names can be a simpler system.

When assigned to individuals, volunteer fire department radios have the benefit of allowing volunteer firefighters to respond from home or their place of work. 

What Is the Role of Communication During an Emergency?

Clear, concise, and effective communication is imperative to the success of any emergency response. Good communication keeps firefighters safe and improves the outcome of the event.

Poor communication can result in a failed operation. When you don’t have clear communication, information gets lost, mistakes get made, and firefighting strategies fall apart.

Where Can You Get Good Quality Fire Radios?

A firefighter is only as safe as their safety equipment. While PPE will keep you safe while fighting a wildfire, quality fire radios will ensure the most effective communication.

BK Radios’ expertise goes back all the way to 1983. They employ FCC licensed technicians who provide full-service repair on the products they sell.

They do their repairs in the shop, so when you purchase a BK Radio you know they will take care of you for the life of your radio. Browse their products and get a price quote by contacting BK Radios directly.