Communication on the fireground is critical to safety and also plays a big part in coordinating activities between different companies. Unless we are all within shouting distance radios are used to relay these messages. From the beginning of an incident until the end we talk back and forth and relay progress and our status several times.
With the increase of apparatus and numbers of calls we need more and more radio frequencies to ensure we can always get our message through. Once we arrive at a confirmed incident we often switch to a dedicated fireground radio channel to keep our radio traffic on a more local level that doesn’t contradict any other radio traffic.
There are a few things we need to know about the pros and cons of fireground frequencies.
Before fireground frequencies were available crews were left on their own after they were given a task by command. Only a few people on the fireground had a portable radio and unless you could yell back and forth you were on your own until you decided to walk back and get another order.
With the addition of more radios we needed more frequencies. Radios thirty years ago commonly had 3 or 4 frequencies. Today radios have several different bands, frequencies and channels. The combinations leave us with about 700 channels that we can use. Among those channels are a handful of fireground frequencies.
Unlike main dispatch channels fireground frequencies aren’t usually recorded. Fireground channels were designed to be used in a small area. Communication between command and dispatch are always recorded but recording of fireground communication is rare. Some of the most important communication happens on the fireground frequency, but if that is not relayed on the main channel it is left unreported.
A dedicated channel can be a great benefit on the scene of an incident.
Once arriving on the scene companies switch to the local frequency and communicate freely and without interruption from other incidents. Having this channel allows more communication which means we are all getting more information about the status of the incident. More information is always better.
There are some departments that mandate using a fireground frequency upon arrival at every incident. In some situations the amount of communication to assign a fireground channel is more than needed to handle the entire incident.
I don’t think we need to be quite so quick to switch from the main channel. Departments need to be sure they don’t switch from the main channel too soon, second arriving companies are left in the dark about the incident if we switch right away to a fireground channel. It is better to wait until a few companies and an incident commander have arrived before switching frequencies.
Fireground frequencies in the future will need to be recorded by a dispatch center, exactly like main fire channels.
Critical information is relayed on fireground frequencies and all of those transmissions need to be kept, time stamped, and reviewed after incidents. All of the information recorded on the fireground can be used for critiquing our performance, and can also be used to investigate what may have gone wrong.
It will take some money and some time, but before too long we will have all the benefits of fireground without the problem of it not being recorded.