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Using, cleaning, and troubleshooting fire service portable radios Part 1: Use/Checkout

*This will be a multipart topic covered over several posts, all focusing on the use and maintenance of the fire service portable radio*

Arguably, the fire service portable (aka the handie-talkie or portable) is the most used piece of equipment at our disposal as a firefighter. I would also argue that it is the most under maintained piece of equipment. This series of blog posts will focus on the use and maintenance of the fire service portable radio, and will cover checkout (this post), proper use and tips for successful communications, troubleshooting, and maintaining this critical asset. 

Chapter 1: Portable Radio Checkout

Regardless of what you call it- transition, shift change, duty crew- there is a lot of information to process and equipment to check when you show up to ride firetrucks. One of the oft neglected- if not forgotten- items to check is the portable radio assigned to your riding position.

Obviously the battery should be a fully charged one. But this isn't the only part of the portable radio that requires your attention.

Turn your potable radio on. Ensure it goes through a self check (if it does such a thing) and that both the speaker inside the portable and the remote speaker mic are functioning.

Tune it to your preferred talk group (most folks like their radio on the main or dispatch talk group/channel).  

Inspect it for damage- you must inspect the portable radio itself, battery, antenna, volume and talk group selectors, keypad, digital display, and remote speaker mic. 

Clean it if it's dirty by wiping a damp shop towel over the radio, antenna and remote speaker mic- more to come on that later.

Ensure your remote speaker mic and antenna are attached and fully tightened or attached to the portable. 

Finally, perform a Push To Talk (PTT) test; some departments do this as a matter of practice via their communications center on a routine basis. You can do this by switching to a local/talkaround/direct (aka analog/simplex) channel and attempting to transmit. Another member of your crew can listen and then test theirs. 

If you find damage or the radio isn't performing optimally, place it out of service for repair and grab a spare or loaner portable.

If it's not 100 percent operational, you may as well be carrying a brick to communicate with! 

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