Firefighters are more likely to get injured or killed on the job when there are problems with communication. To prevent these tragedies from happening, it’s crucial that all fire personnel have the proper communications training right off the bat.

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) is doing what it can to reduce the number of injuries and deaths related to being a firefighter. This means getting the proper training to use two-way portable radios.

Even probationary firefighters should know how to use the communications equipment and be able to implement the procedures and policies into their working knowledge. Continue reading to learn what you need to know about radio communications in this beginner firefighter’s guide.

Portable Radio Communications Are Important

Fire departments have been around for hundreds of years, yet in the last 30 to 40 years the implementation of radio communications has become the common practice. For starters, this technology wasn’t readily available to all firefighters until more recently. 

Today, communication technology is a lifeline. If firefighters are unable to communicate with other firefighters and the Incident Commander, problems might arise.

Giving a portable radio to every single fire personnel in the department has helped to increase efficiency in fire safety and in operational procedures. In fact, many NIOSH line-of-duty death reports show communication as poorly established or virtually nonexistent. 

Firefighters rely on communication devices to relay messages to the Incident Commander (IC) and also to Dispatch. Every firefighter on the fire ground should have access to two-way radios or a portable communication device. This gives them the ability to:

  • Report changes in conditions to higher-ups
  • Receive changes in conditions surrounding them

In the blink of an eye, the situation may change and the structure may become unstable. If the firefighters are not able to warn other firefighters about hazardous conditions or get that message to IC about the collapse of the building, it is possible that deaths might occur.

Getting the Proper Training 

It’s critical to transmit information accurately and in a timely manner. It becomes a problem when communication is compromised.

This usually happens when there is a lack of training along with a lack of policies. It is also an issue when firefighters don’t have the skills needed to communicate efficiently. Poorly designed equipment also hinders success.

When it comes to emergency communications, the sooner a probationary firefighter understands the system, the better. There is no rank when it comes to communicating the events unraveling within a fire emergency. Every single firefighter needs to be able to communicate with anyone along the chain of command. 

It’s important to remember that the lines of communication must remain open at all times to allow for emergency traffic tones and maydays to get through to the right officials. If possible, face-to-face communication should be used to keep these lines open. Because of this, a standard for radio communication should be in place.

The Five C’s of Radio Communications

There are five things that you need to remember when communicating via two-way radio as a firefighter. You need to practice conciseness when speaking on a portable radio.

This means that you need to be brief and to the point. In addition to this, your message has to have clarity so that the receiver of your message understands what is going on. 

The third C is confidence. You have to deliver your message in a way that tells the receiver that you know what you are talking about. When delivering your confident message, you need to practice control in your voice. It’s in your best interest to avoid inflections so that your message isn’t fractured.

You are fully capable of delivering these messages to other firefighters, IC, and dispatch. This capability to speak clearly and concisely is achievable through practice. 

Communication Among Firefighting Professionals

Using technology to communicate in the field is becoming more commonplace, every day. Communication isn’t only important on the fire ground, at the scene of a fire.

News bulletins and emails only go so far as to announce changes in policies, schedules, etc. Shift logs and memos help a ton to aid in communication between shifts. 

If the entire fire department is able to communicate in every setting, they will be able to work better together in the fire ground.

Portable Radio Accessibility

Firefighters wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and carry a ton of supplies to ensure their safety and the safety of those involved in the fire. The list of their equipment and supplies is extensive, including:

  • Protective helmet
  • Protective hood
  • Protective coat and trousers
  • Protective boots
  • Protective gloves
  • SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus)
  • PASS (personal alert safety system)
  • Flashlight
  • Rescue rope and bailout system
  • Thermal imaging camera
  • Hand tools (axes, etc)
  • Hose lines
  • Search lines
  • Wire cutters
  • Ladders

It’s crucial to implement carrying a two-way, portable radio every single time that you walk into a burning building. 

Portable radios need to be accessible while firefighters are in full gear. This means that they are able to change channels, use push to talk (PTT), and access the emergency alert/identification button (EAB/IEB) while wearing their gloves.

Mics on the lapel of the protective gear are ideal, though not required. In most cases, the radio should be worn at head level to minimize body interference. The antenna needs to be close to the head, near the shoulder.

The channels that firefighters are active on should be accessible by dispatch to be monitored.

BK Radio Has Your Back

At BK Radio, we know that having the right tools for radio communications is crucial to a successful career as a firefighter. For years we have been providing firefighters with the equipment that they need to communicate with the entire chain of command.

Contact us today so that we can help you find the right two-way radio. We look forward to working with you.