Friday, June 15, 2012

How Do You Communicate

This post came to me while continuing to design my class for the South Atlantic Fire Expo later this summer.   I have always been a huge proponent of calm radio traffic.  The calmer the traffic the better the incident generally goes.  Sure I have yelled on the radio, sure I have said some dumb stuff on the radio, but with experience comes a calm radio demeanor.  This expectation isn't just for the officer either, it should be for everyone who has a radio.  These days audio is broadcast and recorded all over the internet so the impression someone may get of your department may come from a 5 second audio clip.

Almost everyone fireman has heard the old quote from Andy Fredricks: "“The garbage man doesn’t get excited when he turns the corner and sees trash, because he’s expecting it. Likewise, you should be expecting fire on every run."  My colleague Pete over at ELAFFHQ even had a post on it a few weeks ago "Death, Perspective and the Garbageman".  Yet we continue to hear folks on the radio screaming as though they are seeing the apocalypse unfolding in front of them.  I can play you audio clip after audio clip of officers pulling up to the biggest fire they have ever scene and sounding like it just a fire alarm.  On the flip side of that, I can play you plenty of audio where officers pull up to a trash fire and make it sound like they are narrowly escaping the gates of hell.  When I address the topic during training, I always advocate for the use of the 3 C's of communication, Clear, concise, and calm. With these simple rules, communications on every emergency scene can be improved vastly.


 Everyone that as ever listened to the radio knows that quite often you can't understand a word someone is saying on the radio.  I know that some readers who "aren't from round here" would struggle to understand some of the southern dialects we (I) have on the radio here in the South.  This is frustrating for both the listener and the transmitter.  First, the transmitter is upset because no one is responding or comprehending what he is saying.  Secondly, the listener(s) are frustrated because they know information is being broadcast but they can't figure out what it is.  Much of this mistake can be attributed directly to training our members to talk on the radio.

To talk on the radio no matter what the manufacturer, you must place the microphone 1-2 inches from your mouth or voice port.  There are many SCBA accessories that assist with in mask communications, but if you don't have those, ensure you bring the mic up to the voice port at the distance mentioned above.  In addition, normal conversational voice should be used when communicating on the radio.  Some people do have a "radio voice" but we need to ensure that we are using a clear tone of voice and speech.  If we rush words, use improper slang or some code word no one knows it helps no one of the emergency scene. 

Speak clearly by using common department terminology, speak into the mic, and understand how it feels to be on the receiving end of the radio traffic.  When we are in an emergency situation on the fire ground, that is the critical time that we must transmit information clearly and quickly to all members there.   Yelling on the radio only makes your transmission less clear to others.  The loud voice on your end actually makes it more difficult for the users on the other end to understand what you are saying.  With all of that said, there are times where yelling is unavoidable such as fire licking on your rear end etc.


Being concise on the radio is definitely one of the biggest challenges we face when it comes to communications.  We all know the guy who talks the fire out, turns the two car MVA into a three alarm talk fest, or give a dissertation of conditions on a fire alarm.  We all have them in our department, and sometimes I have even been that guy.  We have to realize that only one person can talk at a time on the channel, and that someone else may have something more important to say than what we may be communicating.  In addition, firefighters are no different than children, we have a short attention span.  That fact alone should hit home because we all know we drown out some things after a certain timer goes off in our head.  Being concise should become a habit for all firefighters and officers when we talk on the radio.  never before have there ever been so many radios on the fire ground, so limiting radio traffic is more important than ever. 

Sometime we must understand that less is more.  If we limit the length and the detail of what we transmit, people may get more out of it than a 25 second transmission describing the thread count of the sheets inside the house.  Firefighters need simple information much of the time so our descriptions and transmissions must reflect that.  There are some situations where a long transmission is needed such as a haz-mat scene or even some technical rescue scenes, but not every scene needs to be a talk fest.  Be concise, get your point across and release the button and give up the air time.


As I mentioned above, being calm on the radio is of paramount importance especially when it comes to the first in officer.  The saying goes "How the first line goes indicates how the fire will go".  This holds true with communications as well.  If the first arriving officer screams, everyone will be that much more amp-ed up and excited.  However, if the officer exhibits a calm, no nonsense, and sensible approach to the fire the incoming units will be much more disciplined, calm, and deliberate with their actions after their arrival.  Also, as I mentioned above, a calm transmitter on the radio is much easier to understand.  The louder you speak into the radio, the harder it is for the radio to collect your voice, convert it, and transmit it to other users. 

Some would argue that if you are calm on the big fires people won't know they are big.  Don't believe me, I have heard it from command officers in two departments.  In response, I commented that if they want to know its big come on over to the party and they can find out.  I don't believe it is the IC job to make a fire sound big or small for anyone, it is their job to safely mitigate the incident.  If you have been in the fire service any time, the most successful and respected officers are those who are calm in the eyes of adversity.  Firefighters love to see a calm officer or Chief when the Feces hits the Oscillator. 

To understand how calm affects people in a group, we need to look no further than the military.  All great military leaders remained cool under fire.  You never hear of any that freaked out or locked up, so don't be that IC that does.  Being calm isn't something that just comes automatically to all firefighters.  It takes time, experience, and some mistakes.  I was a radio screamer on two incidents where I was in command that changed me.  I listened to the tapes and laughed at myself sounding like a scared little 10 year old.  Since the last one of those incidents, I have changed.  I'm sure many of you reading this had "those" incidents, the question is did you learn from them, or are you still a radio screamer?

Be The Change

Through some friendships I have forged in the past few months, I have taken a bit of a new philosophy than I once had regarding the fire service.  I have begun to realize that charge starts with me, or in the case of this article, it starts with you.  Practice with your crews some of the items I have discussed, implement a change in yourself, fix it in your station and then the others will follow suit.  If you set the good example, others will follow as they see the positive outcomes that come out of what you have done on scenes.

Communications is the most neglected subject in terms of training in the fire service.  Continuously, NIOSH cites communication as an issue during LODD's.  Make the change in your department and your self to fix some of the communication issues you may have within your jurisdiction.  In the meantime, stay disciplined out there.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Billy G is reporting a LODD in AZ resulting from an apparatus rollover while en-route to a call.  Two other firefighters were injured in the accident, so please pray for their recovery and for the family of the fallen brother.

Here is Billy G's Report:

"The Secret List

We regret to advise you that a Firefighter was killed in the Line of Duty and two were injured in single-vehicle crash this morning while fighting the Montezuma Fire burning in the Baboquivari Mountain Range southwest of Tucson.

The 3 United States Bureau of Indian Affairs assigned Firefighters were responding to the fire in a brush fire truck on Federal Route 19, near mile post 22, when the vehicle rolled over. Two of the Firefighters were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, and the other died at the scene."

Stay Trained out there folks. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Helping Our Own

Nearly every post on this rag has had some sort of fire service or fire department theme.  While today's post relates to us, it could be written about the bank worker or the garbage man.  Please bear with me but take it to heart.  During the past month, our city has been offering supplemental accident and illness insurance to our people.  The emails were vague and it took some reading to find about it but it was a great benefit for the people that work for our fine city.  Many deleted the email, many said they didn't care, and many thought it was just another way to "cut" pay.  I saw it as an opportunity to help our own.

I knew I would sign up for it from the beginning, but many needed some convincing.  As a company officer it is my job to ensure that my folks (where I sub each day) know what ways the city offers to take care of them and their families.  Too many firefighters forget that insurance and benefits are just as important as the training we do to stay up on our skills.  If one doesn't stay up on these things, their families will suffer in the worst way possible.  We only discuss benefits when we get hired and when we retire, but what about the middle 25-30 years?  Sure, we might change a few things during open enrollment, but we fail to examine some of the other items that the city/county/department we work or volunteer for may offer to look out for their own.  Have you ever looked at our likelihood to have cancer, have a cardiac event, or have a traumatic accident?  Well if you haven't, at least one will occur to all of us, some will get to experience all three some only two, but no one will avoid all three.   We will all break a bone, roll an ankle, cut ourselves, or some how hurt ourselves on or off duty that will cause medical treatment.  Firefighters need to be taken care signing up for these programs that are offered by organizations.  If you are a member of a fire department especially if you are an officer, watch out for others, look at what benefits your organization offers and take advantage of them.

Please explore what your department offers you and sit down with your family and discuss them.  We need to do a better job of preparing for the times we need to use the benefits than we currently do.  We stick together in times of need, let's stick together before those times.  Make sure we look out for one another, and advocate for those who may not know whats out there to look at what's available to them.