When it comes to the firefighting profession, clear communication is more than just a necessity; it’s a requirement for safety. This is because effective interaction helps firefighters hone in on dangerous conditions and allows for timely information to be shared between command staff, dispatch, and crews.
Thankfully, firefighters have modern technology to aid in their verbal communication. This article will discuss some of the most important tools used for this purpose.
A radio is essential for firefighter safety and clear communication with dispatchers, colleagues, and incident commanders. The best-designed and most reliable firefighter radios have noise-canceling technology for loud environments and durable designs for rough environments. Two-way radios are important because they allow firefighters to make informed decisions quickly based on real-time information from the scene of an emergency.
In a fire, there is an inherent tension between taking the right action and acting quickly enough. Effective communication must be clear and concise so firefighters can act as fast as possible. If there is too much radio chatter, it can be easy to miss key information or even to miss being called by command.
Firefighters communicate with each other verbally over their radios, using their voices (some airpack masks have amplifiers that can be attached to the facepiece to allow for voice transmission over the radio) and short tugs on ropes or hose lines that signal certain emergencies. Hand signals were common before the advent of portable radios but are now less common.
The first step in effective communication is making sure that your department has the right equipment. High-quality headsets and radio systems with omnidirectional microphones allow for clear audio and can be used in noisy environments, such as those found on firegrounds. The antennas should be positioned to avoid obstructions such as ladders, hydrant stands, and firefighting tools that can hinder the reception of radio transmissions.
A common problem is excessive radio chatter among members and officers. People who love to talk on the radio will use it every chance they get, often tying up the channel from other people who need to call in for resources or call Mayday. Educating your team about the importance of active listening skills and training them on how to properly operate their portable radios can help reduce this issue.
Getting your radio system and portables in the best condition also increases their longevity and helps prevent them from breaking down. Using high-visibility colors for the radios can improve visibility, especially in a dark or smoky environment. Hi-visibility radios can also be more easily recovered if firefighters drop them. These simple upgrades can significantly impact your fire department’s efficiency and safety.
Firefighters must be able to communicate verbally and by hand in an emergency situation. They also must be able to evaluate the scene of an incident upon arrival, including properties involved, the likelihood of fire spreading, and other factors that might affect safety and effectiveness.
Often, there is a tension between clear communication and the need to work quickly in a dangerous and time-critical environment. As a result, firefighters use hand signals to communicate with each other and the aircrew when necessary.
When a firefighter is moving to another position, he or she must communicate with the team leader via hand signals before the movement begins. This allows the team leader to check with the person being moved and to provide covering fire for the new location.
In addition to hand signals, firefighters can communicate with each other using voice (some airpack masks have amplifiers that allow the wearer to speak through the face piece), short tugs on ropes or hose lines, and banging tools together to signal certain emergencies. Firefighters can also use their airwave TETRA radio to talk to each other and the fire control center while on the way to an incident and can collect information on the incident as they are en route.
Aircraft use emergency hand signals, outlined in the ICAO document, as backup communications between different groups of people, such as ground marshallers giving steering directions to pilots, cabin crew communicating with de-icing operatives, and aircraft crew indicating application of the brakes to ground marshals. The emergency signals are conducted with the hands and fingers but can be augmented by paddles, batons, and even lit wands for use at night.
The key to effective communication in any organization is being able to deliver the right message at the right time in a way that is clearly understood and acted upon by those receiving it. This is especially important for emergency services, where the consequences of ineffective communication can be life-threatening and potentially catastrophic. Good communication results in fires extinguished swiftly, risks managed professionally, and people working effectively as a team.
There’s a delicate balance when it comes to firefighting communication. It needs to be clear, concise, and consistent. However, it’s also imperative that firefighters be able to act quickly in order to ensure the safety of themselves and others on the scene. This often requires effective written communication, as well as verbal and visual communication.
There are several reasons why ground communication can become confusing or hard to follow. One of the most common is when someone yells into their radio instead of speaking calmly. This can cause the message to be distorted and leave the recipient wondering what was being said.
Another common reason for miscommunication is using technical jargon that’s not familiar to recipients. This can lead to confusion and misunderstandings that can be costly, especially on the ground.
Using plain-text language helps avoid this problem as it’s an everyday language anyone can understand. It was also adopted and implemented as part of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) after the tragedy of September 11, 2001.
If you’re unfamiliar with this type of communication, practicing it before a call may be helpful to make sure you know how to use it effectively. This can include writing out a command board for each call and practicing how you’ll speak to the incident commander and your crew members.
During a fire, it’s important to know how to communicate in case your portable radio fails or becomes disorientated due to smoke inhalation. This is why it’s a good idea to have a backup method of communication, such as hand signals or short tugs on ropes or hose lines.
It’s also essential that everyone on the ground treats each other with respect and courtesy, even in stressful situations. This can help keep communication flowing smoothly and prevent unnecessary arguments that can slow down the progress of the firefighting operation. Having an organized command board system can help with this by making it easier to track personnel and equipment. This can be done through things like a personnel accountability system and firefighter ID tags.
Firefighters communicate with their brethren via radio, voice (some airpacks have amplifiers to allow the use of voices in thick smoke), and signals (such as short tugs on ropes or hose lines or banging tools together to signal certain emergencies). But they also rely on visual communication, too. Whether they’re reading a written report, looking at photographs of an incident, or walking through a building, visual cues play a vital role in keeping firefighters safe.
Visual communication is important for navigation, evacuation messaging, and facility-wide warnings. Many facilities also utilize floor markings and signage to communicate specific safety concerns, such as flammable hazards or electric panels. Depending on the facility’s needs and requirements, these signs can be marked with OSHA or ANSI colors. Additionally, fire-related visual cues can be marked with glow-in-the-dark tape to help provide a track for firefighters to follow during an emergency situation.
While there are many “hard skills” a firefighter must learn to be effective on the ground, clear and complete communication is a key skill to master. Good communication reinforces visual observations, helps set the stage for the incident, and provides valuable information to everyone involved. It can also prevent miscommunication, such as the classic example of saying “No,” which could be heard as meaning “Go.”
Often, firefighters must read and reference written communication as well as verbal and non-verbal communication to get the information they need to respond quickly in a dangerous environment. They need to be able to understand the intent behind the orders they receive and know that their actions will contribute to success.
A great deal of the time, however, firefighters are away from the ground. This can mean that they’re navigating a new worksite or attending training sessions. This is why it’s so important that their workplace has clear, consistent communication with them when they are not at the scene of a fire.
This includes communicating through email and phone, but it’s also about how the office handles paperwork and how information is presented to them. For example, creating documents with a clean and consistent style of fonts, colors, and images can set a business apart and make it more professional, which will improve the clarity of its communication.