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The Role of the Safety Officer and Radio Communications

In the world of do more with less the Incident Safety Officer (ISO) role is becoming more complex. Your responsibility is the overall safety of the firefighters on scene. This is not the time to be focused on the “small” things such as gloves and chin straps. Those items are important but they need to be addressed ahead of time during training not on the fire ground.

We have seen it time and time again where Incident Commanders (IC) and other command staff miss the MayDay radio transmissions. With the normal on scene operational noise and difficulty understanding transmissions from firefighters in a life or death situation utilizing a SCBA. Anyone who has been in the IC role understands why many of those transmissions are missed.

Because of this understanding we cannot accept this as an acceptable fire ground issue and continue to allow it to happen. We must find ways to assure that each and every radio transmission is heard by the IC and or the ISO. I have recently added a piece of radio equipment to our command vehicle for utilization by the ISO.

This equipment is not new idea and it was not my original idea. However I wanted to share as I see success for many departments.

This one piece of equipment is not the only answer or the ultimate solution, it is another tool for the tool box.

We have added a designated portable radio that has a noise cancelling headset attached. This radio also includes a LCD display that identifies any mobile or portable radio when that radio is keyed up. This head set gives the ISO the ability to focus on the overall incident safety and also not have any radio transmission missed from occupational noise. The LCD identifier is a duplicate of what we have in our dispatch center. Giving redundancy to the identification of the radio that has been keyed.

Please see below pictures for a few of the slides from the inter-department training;

The last piece that also comes into play here is your trained Fire Dispatcher.

Your dispatcher should be trained in Mayday parameters, SCBA low air alarms, PASS devices, MayDay radio transmissions and their role in each scenario. They should also be comfortable understanding the LUNAR information and documenting the LUNAR information onto a LUNAR checklist.

Your dispatchers are in a controlled environment and many systems allow the dispatcher to rewind the tape and listen to any transmission again. We as Incident Commanders don’t have the option but you can utilize your dispatcher. However this is something that must be trained on and worked out ahead of time.

All too often we simply blame our dispatchers for their mistakes. Blaming the dispatcher is the easy thing to do! The hard thing to do is the right thing. Realize that many of their mistakes are truly our fault. Many of these mistakes are our fault for not building the relationships through training ahead of time. Include your dispatchers into your MayDay training and add another layer of safety to your incidents.

An ISO armed with portable radio with a noise cancelling headset and identifier system backed up by a trained and prepared dispatcher will help decrease the chances of a missed radio transmission.

When one of my firefighters makes his or her only call for help I want to assure the ISO hears the transmission accurately and responds appropriately. If the ISO misses that call for help I want to know I have a trained dispatcher that has heard the information and is prepared to notify the IC or ISO of the LUNAR information with 100% accuracy!

If you have struggled to train your dispatchers in MayDay procedures or are looking for more justification or support to move forward reference the following article in Fire Engineering "MayDay The Dispatcher's Role"

You can also check out Fire Engineering Books and Videos MayDay for the Fire Dispatcher DVD -

We must put mechanisms in place to make sure no radio transmissions are missed.

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