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I am looking for some input from around the country on your Fire Departments fire ground communications. Specificaly, does everyone in an IDLH atmosphere carry portable radios or just one member per team? Secondly, due you use one radio channel or do you have seperate Dispatch and fire ground channels? Third does your dispatch center monitor all of your fire ground communications?

I am trying to put together a report on the pros and cons of everyone having portable radios and if someone does need to call a "MAYDAY" who will here it.

If you could let me know along with the size and type of fire department you are part of it would be a great help.

Be safe out there.


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Chris, we are a department of 70 full time personnel. We have 20 people per shift. Each seat on each piece of apparatus has a radio assigned to it. Each person carries their radio and we have recently put identity to the radio when it is keyed up to transmit. We have a dispatch channel and multiple fire ground channels that are monitored. I hope that the dispatch center can hear the transmission. I know that they can here the main fire ground channel. I can not think of any cons to everyone having a radio. The main pro is safety for everyone.

Tim Williams
Chris, we are a department of approximately 30 volunteers. On our Engine, Quint, and Mini Pumper each seat has a radio. Our Tender (Tanker) Air Light Unit, Traffic Unit, and Rescue (working towards). Each person carries the radio which has an identity which corresponds to the seat in which they are sitting. It is hard with a volunteer crew to always remember who was sitting in what seat and even sometimes to keep the radios assigned to the right locations. As for channels our dispatch operates on a High band while our response channels are on a Digital Channel and fire ground communications are on a 500 MGZ channel that is not able to be monitored by our dispatch center because it only has a range of approx 2 miles or some say line of sight. Some of the cons to everyone having a lot of radio's is sometimes there is a lot of feed back. Besides that everyone having a radio is a great safety feature.
Chris, we are a combination department with 70 career firefighters on staff and approx 16 to 18 working any particular shift. All career staff members on shift are assigned a radio with an identifier at the start of their respective tours. The radio identifiers are synonymous with the assigned ride position.( example: 11A is Engine 1 driver, 11B is the Engine 1 rider) Volunteers are assigned radios by their respective companies and there are extra portables on apparatus.The pro to all members of the group having radios is tenfold! First, each member is aware of what is going on within the fireground/ incident/ emergency etc... via radio traffic. Each member has the capability to communicate all actions, progress, and conditions and transmit mayday when necessary. The radios assist in accountability, adding another tool, enabling command to either evacuate a structure, assess manpower, and meet the necessities of the teams operating within an IDLH. This also allows any member that transmits a mayday and the F.A.S.T. to stay on that channel while suppression operations can continue to communicate on alternately assigned fireground channels. The only Con to every member having portable radios that I can see is feedback. NOT really a Con when you think about the alternatives.

Our department is a 28 member volunteer department. We currently only have enough radios for the officer and one other firefighter on a crew. My goal is to try to get a portable radio for everyone on the fireground; we are getting there slowly but are making progress. We also have the ability to utilize four separate fireground channels from our dispatch channel. Unfortunately the fireground channels are not monitored by our dispatch; but we also man our base radio in the firehouse on the majority of emergency calls so that gives the IC another set of ears.

Hope this helps.

Be Safe!!

Hey Chris,

Each member of my crew has a portable radio and we carry spares for any other members who may jump on our apparatus. The radios are Motorola CP 200, 5 watt 16 channel with scan capability. Each channel covers one of our operating frequences(4) as well as county, mutual aid towns, EMS 1, PD 1 and SPEN 4 (State Police Emergency network, FIRE ) . We have been operating with individual crew member radios for about 10 years and have found our fireground operations to be more positive in performance outcome and safety. We went with this radio ($300) because of its great performance on the fireground (out performes the dept radios at a cost of $2500) and is less than the insur. deductable to replace. We do not have any problems with feed back in close courters which is a plus. The best is if the s#@t hits the fan every man can communicate. The question to ask is ,what good is anything we do if we cannot communicate with each other when we need to !! The IC monitors the fire ground if we go to our FG channel and the County and IC monitor if we are operating on a county channel. Works great for us !!

STAY SAFE !! Dennis
Our department is a career department of about 230 members with 47 people minimum on duty. We used to run with a portable for the driver and officer only with all our operations (dispatch, etc.) on one channel with 2 back up frequencies available. It was a mess if we had multiple incidents going on at once, nevermind if someone had a "mayday" situation. About 7 years ago we went to everyone carrying a portable and went to different "ops" channels about 5 years ago. This has greatly increased safety on the fireground. There were bumps in the road, just like every operational change that comes along, but on the whole communications are better. Our Fire Alarm (dispatch) does monitor our fireground, which has its plusses and minuses. The plus side is there is an extra set of ears to listen for emergency transmissions. The down side is when the dispatcher keeps interjecting with information that isn't crucial during the offensive initial operations. Stuff like the eta for utilities, the status of the "call back" chief, whether "notifications" have been made, etc. With good SOGs and a little discipline, it's a good system that gives everyone on the fireground a personal safety device.
Every person has a radio in OKC. Make sure to have your readers check the the Communications group. Many of our conversations entail what is being brought up here.
My department (75 members,18 a shift when full, budget cuts down to 11) has enough radios to supply each on duty position. We run with 3 tactical channels and the portables are 16 channel motorola HT1000 types. Our dispatch monitors the main frequency so one thing we did was put the main frequency in the number 1 and number 16 slot on the channel dial so if an emergency happens and the channel might have ben moved you can either turn it one way or the other to get the main FD frequency. We don't train at all in mayday procedures and I don't think we have much of a RIT program either.

I do think it is a pro for everyone to have a radio but just make sure everyone doesn't talk on it. Which we do a relatively good job on it
and to add to what Barry is saying, we also have to train the FF to keep their volumes turned down. The feedback will drive a person insane.
Chris: Each suppression firefighter is assigned a personal portable-they are all the same brand and configuration. Each portable has an identity feature so the dispatchers and IC'S can see who is transmitting. The portables feature a man-down signal and when activated on any channel , the dispatchers can receive the distress signal. This feature eliminates the need to monitor fire ground operations which can really cause havoc in the dispatch center.

As for alerting--the call is dispatched on a dispatch only channel and all responses are carried out on another channel. In addition the entire county has multiple channel capability for fire ground ops as well as individual zones in the event emergencies occur in several municipaltites at the same time. All radios on all apparatus--county wide are programmed the same and also have cross over communications capabilities to all other services--Police,EMS, Public Works, State Agencies etc.

Our department is all volunteer--40 members--we also run first due with a neighboring department--However this system was instituted on an county wide basis and despite some initial bugs--is working quite well--The County 911 Director was instrumental in getting this system in place--fortunately for us he is a member of our department and is my Deputy Chief!!!
Hope this helps you out- Remember thorough planning will eliminate many unnecessary obstacles-Stay Safe--

John DiCola
Our entire County just changed from analog to the "newer" "better" radios. 800 Mhz Digital trunking, which by the way does not support voice pager so now everything is alpha numeric, I guess we didn't have a enough distractions while driving to the station in the middle of the night so we had to reading to the list ( with this logic we will soon be able to do away with radios altogether and we can all just "Text" each other. Any way we have gone from 2 operating channels of which only was monitored. Now we have 9 Ops channels in county fire and 2 ops channels for rescue under the EMS zone ( we only respond to MVA's with entrpament or fluid spills EMS has several Ops channels for medical calls. At the time of dispatch we are assigned an Ops channel and all other radio traffic is on that channel ( this was so drivers would not be changing channels while arriving on scene in a dark truck it could be done in a well lit station before the brake is released. Our radios work with every agency in the county which is good and bad; we are all capable of talking on the same channel but when then no one can talk because there is too much traffic. Currently we do not use a seperate channel for interior crews, most everything is handled on the one channel. I think our department is the only one that has instituted the following policy. If we are operating on a scene with members in an IDLH atmosphere and we ask for more mutual aid ( all structure fires/alarms are 2 department dispatch already) we have them assigned a seperate Ops channel that the staging officer will monitor direct incoming crews, then once assigned a 'working' task they will switch to the proper Ops channel. The reason for this is our automatic aid department normally arrives the same time we do, but an additional department that is dispatched has to check each truck enroute, possibly get directions since it is an area they normally do not respond to, and with volunteer departments there are many members using their radio as well.
All of our radios have an Alert Button for Mayday, but normally the button gets hit while donning packs and getting off the rig, so far they have been more of a nuisance, but our dispatchers are also alerted one hte button is pressed and they can identify the exact radio it came it from. We only require there be one radio per team but we have issued radios to each officer and all active members that are approved drivers so there may be more than one per team. But usually everyone except the line officer will have to turn thier radio off to prevent feedback and distortion.
As for our Dispatch Center monitoring all of our fireground traffic, they might if there is nothing else going on but normally they are too busy to listen to everything and only focus on us when we call them directly or the Mayday button is pressed on radio.
Our department is all volunteer, 38 members, 16 that have radios issued to them, and a minimum of 2 per truck. We run 2 egines 1 service, 1 ladder, 1 tanker, and one grass unit.
We are a 100 member department. Due to all the grant money available we have a radio for every position on each apparatus. It is our SOG that everyone have a radio in the IDLH. We found something called a "bone mike" that is mounted inside everyones helmet. Each radio has the extended microphone. When doning your helmet the bone mike plugs into the extended mike. Our bunker coat has a radio pocket . This has been the best and most successfull communication system we have ever had. We are extremely satisfied with bone mike system. However we have what we have thanks to the grant money that is out there. We would not have afforded all the radios and mikes without the financial assistance.

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