Each day across America, firefighters key up radios and transmit numerous emergency and non emergency messages across the airways above us. Without this form of communications, the fire service and many of us would be lost. With the new technologies that have been introduced into the communications realm, firefighters have been challenged and protected better all at the same time.
The one thing I want to bring everyone's attention to is how are your radios aliased? I know, I know, who cares its not a new tiller, or a cool flashy fire picture, but it is a serious question every firefighter should ask their communications folks.
Radios on both trunked and conventional radio systems have the ability to identify who is "keyed" up with the right options installed at the system level. Many departments and systems fail to concern themselves with this option because it doesn't make a difference or that it is too hard to keep up with. However, I want each of you reading this to understand how much difference the alias can make in both daily operations and during a firefighter emergency. In systems radios are assigned ID numbers and these are lengthy, and meaningless unless you have a spreadsheet to decifer their meaning. In contrast, a radio alias can be programmed to whatever you want as long as it is short enough and meet the system perameters. For instance, my radio may be 7685906 in system until I alias it to E19-1. This allows me to key up and the dispatcher be aware who is speaking without any human intervention short of me keying the radio up.
This simple alias change allows the dispatcher or other radios (If programmed) to see who is talking. This can allow for folks to quickly identify open mics (keeps you out of trouble when private conversations could be accidentially broadcast), allow for maydays to be identified, as well assist IC's in identifying the origin of transmissions on scene.
One response I constantly hear is that it is hard to keep up with the alaises since radios break etc. My response to that is nothing is hard when it is viewed as a priority. Once a month in my department, we verify radio aliases to ensure their accuracy. Aggrevating, sometimes yes, important, absolutely. Listen to radio traffic from a firefighter emergency and tell me how important it is to either have aliases or to have them current.
One major help aliases can be is in the realm of Mayday operations. Having an accurate and understandable "radio name", allows the folks who can come help me know the two of the first three components of LUNAR without me having to say anything (Unit and Name). This feature is often unused, underemphasized or not understood by too many in the fire service. For the most part it is a simple change that can be done at the dispatch console, but far too many fail to concern themselves with updating the numbers to something that can be readily identified.
We need to remember that the only way we can call for help is over the radio, so we must ensure that they fulfill our needs just as we ensure our nozzles, trucks, and hoses do.