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"I Never Heard a Trash Man Scream…" – Staying Cool & Collected on the Radio

My trash gets picked up on Tuesdays and Fridays.  Like fires, it’s a little variable – sometimes they come early, sometimes late.  Sometimes I have a big load, sometimes little, occasionally I throw them off with recyclables.  After a birthday get-together this past week I had a particularly large pile of trash.  A big job for the fellas!  I was sure they’d be excited… However I was dismayed when the trash truck rounded the corner and none of the trashmen were yelling:  “big pile!  we gotta job!  we’re gonna need more gloves!  get the crusher ready!  HE’S GOT CARDBOARD BOXES!!!!” They’re trashmen.  They expect to pick up trash.  We’re firefighters, we should expect to go to fires.

By now I think you’re seeing my analogy.  We have all, myself included, been at fires where the apparent tactic is to attempt to scream the fire out.  Well, Motorola has never extinguished a fire and yelling has never accurately conveyed a message.

We have to remember a couple things:

  1. Usually the people talking on the radios are the officers.  If they’re yelling and losing their cool, how are the troops going to react?  (think mother and baby analogy)We are the fire department.
  2. They dispatched us for a house fire.  Why are we SURPRISED when we arrive to find what they told us was going on?  Shouldn’t we more surprised when it’s NOT? COMBAT READY.

A couple tips to think of before you hold down that PTT button and broadcast yourself to the world:

  • Think before you speak.  It sounds simple, but plan your message so you’re not stuttering nothingness.
  • If the message can be delivered face-to-face without unduly affecting operations, DO SO.
  • Most modern SCBA masks are designed with a speaking diaphragm.  I can say that the Scott mask is designed to have the microphone held about 1″ from the diaphragm, but it tends to work better when held FLUSH to the diaphragm.  Then speak in a NORMAL voice.
  • Another option is to hold the microphone to the side of your throat, over your hood, and again – speak NORMALLY.
  • A useful mnemomic for delivering information is the CAN report:
    • Conditions:  What do I have?
    • Actions: What am I doing about it.
    • Needs: What do I need?
    • Example: “Engine 33 to Operations, we have a room off on the 2nd floor, getting a line on it, need a truck to open up”

As an illustration, the DCFD responded to a tough house fire this past weekend and some of the audio from the fire is below.  The gaps between transmissions were removed, so all the transmissions are basically right after each other.  The fire involved the rescue of several civilians.  Traditions Training instructor Lt. Ron Kemp was at this fire as the officer of Rescue Squad 1 (Squad 1), which is per our SOP’s assigned to search & rescue at all structural fires.  Lt.  Kemp and his crew performed one of the rescues at this fire. His transmissions in particular illustrate the calm, cool, and collected head I am talking about and the “only what you need to know” information.  His transmissions are limited, concise, to the point, and most importantly CALM AND CLEAR.


Take a listen.  And next time you have the microphone in your hand, think about some of the things mentioned above.  In addition to our priority of managing the fire appropriately, in the era of internet radio what you say is for everyone to hear WORLDWIDE.

And to the companies on the W Street, S.E. fire the other night – job well done.

Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, Commentary, fire-rescue-topics, firefighting-operations, fires, Incident Command, news, rescues, technology-communications, Tips & Skills, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics, videos | Posted on 12-07-2010

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