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Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Survival: Monitor Radios

Constantly Monitor Fireground Communications for Critical Radio Reports.

Objective: To cause all firefighters and company officers to maintain constant awareness of all fireground radio communications on their assigned channel for progress reports, critical messages and other information that may affect their risk and safety.

Portable radios are not only the fire crews’ lifeline connection with the incident command and rescuers. They also allow the firefighter to increase situational awareness by closely monitoring the assigned tactical channel.

Radio communications from other points on the fireground provide additional information about changing conditions elsewhere. Conditions will either be improving or deteriorating. Worsening conditions in one area of the fireground can quickly result in unsafe conditions in other areas and puts these firefighters at great risk.

Closely monitoring the radio traffic for critical progress reports also provides a greater lead time for fire crews to evacuate a structure should fire conditions rapidly deteriorate. All crewmembers must monitor radio communications—even if the company officer has the only radio. Sometimes the company officer in charge of the crew may miss critical communications because of noise or other circumstances, and a crewmember can alert the officer.

It’s also important the company officer or team leader provide supervisors or the incident commander frequent progress reports so the command organization maintains real-time situational awareness and can adjust the action plan. These ongoing radio reports also keep other crews informed of progress or deteriorating circumstances.

In situations where the crew may have only one radio and that radio fails while in a burning building, the crew must evacuate to a safe location and report their situation. A crew without a working radio is put at great risk because they lose their connection with the incident commander and rescuers. They also lose the ability to be aware of changing conditions that may threaten them or to hear the order to evacuate the building.

NO GO: If your team is not equipped with a radio, don’t enter a burning building.

NO GO: If your team is equipped with only one radio and it fails while in the building and you have no other means to communicate—exit.

Gary Morris is a director at large on the Safety, Health and Survival Section board of directors and was the team lead for the Rules of Engagement project.

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