How Firefighters Should Wear Their Radio in the Moments That Matter

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Every firefighter knows that in an emergency situation where lives are on the line and every second counts, radio communications must be clear if they are to be effective. What can firefighters do to optimize communications in emergency situations?

There are three basic issues to consider when determining the best way to wear a radio. They are:

  1. Radio Signal Loss
  2. Portable Radio Ejection
  3. Melting of the Remote Speaker Microphone

Many firefighters debate the best positioning of radios for optimal communication. Some advocate wearing the unit in the radio pocket of the turnout coat, believing that access to their radio at chest level in a pocket is the best option. Others favour wearing the radio on a radio strap outside the turnout gear, believing that easy access trumps other communication considerations. Still others believe that the appropriate placing of a radio for best results is on a leather strap designed for the purpose, worn under the user’s turnout coat, but extending below the bottom of the coat with the antenna pointed away from the body of the firefighter.

As it turns out, the last option is the one recommended by radio manufacturers, and fire service representatives who have worked closely with those manufacturers, to address common communication issues at fire scenes.

Taking each of the issues one at a time, consider how a radio strapped under turnout gear garners the best results.

Radio Signal Loss:

Testing completed with Motorola radio engineers concluded that of all the possible placements for radios worn by firefighters, the most signal loss occurs when the radio pocket is used. A firefighter crawling inside a building with the two way radio stored in his/her turnout pocket can expect a significant signal loss (up to 30DB). Because firefighters are already working in environments that decrease optimal signal strength, this additional loss can be catastrophic for effective communications.

On the other hand, correct positioning of the radio on a strap under the turnout coat, with the radio below the coat line, puts the radio in a swivel position when coupled with an engaged SCBA waist belt. Thus, when a firefighter is standing, the antenna remains vertical. When the firefighter is crawling, the antenna swivels to a vertical position as well. Portable radios have been proven to work at the best signal strength when the antenna is in a vertical position.

In situations where signal strength is reduced, such as highrise buildings or earth covered basements, a 30DB signal loss effectively means that a firefighter may lose communication ability altogether. Being unable to call for help or hear potential critical radio traffic information puts the firefighter in unnecessary and possibly life-threatening danger.

Portable Radio Ejection

In typical fire scene operations, the radio pocket has been shown to have serious flaws that lead to radio ejection. In one study, program participants experienced a 40 percent radio ejection rate among participants wearing radios in the radio pocket of their turnout gear. In some cases, even simple manoeuvres done as a routine part of a firefighter’s day caused radio ejection. The velcro closure on a radio pocket has a limited life cycle, and becomes ineffective at holding a 3 lb. radio after repeated use.

On the other hand, proper positioning of the radio on a strap under the turnout coat and below the coat line allows the radio to stay in place, unaffected by either momentum or velocity.

Melting of the Remote Speaker Microphone

The Remote Speaker Microphone is the most vulnerable part of the radio in extreme temperature conditions. Whether worn outside the turnout coat in a radio pocket, or worn on a strap outside the coat, the RSM is exposed to high heat, causing it to melt and potentially short the radio in the open position. An open mic situation can quickly turn deadly, as no one is able to transmit or receive during an emergency event when an open mic jams communication.

Wearing the radio on a strap under the turnout coat affords the best protection from thermal issues. Because the radio is worn below the coat line, when a firefighter is in a standing position, the radio is positioned about 2 feet further down than it would be in a radio pocket. A two foot difference is significant in the case of rapid fire growth emergencies and long-term heat exposures.

Appropriate placement of the radio attached to a strap and worn under the turnout coat with the radio below the coat line provides the firefighter with the following advantages:

  • Thermal protection of the Remote Speaker Microphone
  • Portable ejection prevention
  • Unobstructed access to the Emergency Alert button
  • Unobstructed access to the Channel Selector
  • Unobstructed access to the volume knob
  • Access to the PTT at chest level AND waist level
  • Ability to release or disengage the Remote Speaker Microphone with one hand
  • Ability to position the antenna vertically regardless of orientation of firefighter
  • Reduces signal loss significantly
  • Ability to override an open mic due to a melted Remote Speaker Microphone using the radio’s PTT

With proper positioning of the radio, you can ensure the best possible communication situation and potentially save your life and the lives of others. For more information about our line of sturdy, proven radios for firefighters, please contact us. We are ISO9001-2008 certified and our two way radio experts can help find radio system that fits your needs perfectly. Want to know more about accessories available for two way radios? Check out the P25 Accessories Brochure below!





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